The United States? The victim? You and me?
That's more than just an abstract question. Consider U.S. v. Garcia, No. CR-S 07-473-WBS. On one hand, it's an ordinary National Forest marijuana cultivation case. After a two-day evidentiary hearing in June 2009, U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb issued written "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order Re: Motion To Suppress." In its order, the court granted the defendant's motion to suppress statements made by the defendant to U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Greg L. Knox while in the vehicle on the way to Red Bluff, but denied the motion to suppress evidence of the statements made to U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Anthony Magarrell after the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights. Thereafter, the defendant pled guilty and last month was sentenced to 30 months for conspiracy to cultivate marijuana plants. Nothing unusual there.
But here's the hitch. After the court imposes its sentence--almost 6 months after the court's ruling on the suppression motion, the prosecutor asks the court to amend the ruling to take out its findings and language indicating that the officers were not, uh, entirely credible in their testimony. The prosecutor does not ask the court to change any of its legal rulings, but simply to modify its language to delete any suggestions that the officers were not completely truthful while testifying. Here's the court's findings that concern the prosecutor:
3. Defendant was in custody while in the car.
Special Agent Magarrell communicated with Knox by radio, through another officer, and advised him to transport defendant to Red Bluff. The court finds that after defendant was placed in Officer Knox’s vehicle, he was in custody. The court frankly does not believe that under the circumstances these officers would have intended simply to take these men and give them a free ride an hour and a half away to Red Bluff when they knew exactly what Magarrell and Knox and apparently the other officers knew about this marijuana garden. They had been there, they had seen it.
They knew that five Hispanic males had fled, some of them were even part of that chase, and here they encountered Hispanic males wandering around in that area with no other explanation for why they should be there. They talked to them, and two or three of them admitted they were illegal aliens. The court cannot believe that law enforcement officers under those circumstances would say, “Do you want a ride? We’ll take you back to Red Bluff, and then we’ll drop you off so that you illegal aliens can go about your business and these other individuals, when we have probable cause to arrest, can go free.”
Instead, the court finds it most probable that Agent Magarrell intended to have the suspects transported to Red Bluff in order to interrogate them, turn at least the illegal aliens over to immigration authorities, and/or place them under arrest.
Further, defendant was placed in shackles in Officer Knox’s vehicle. It is hard to believe that after he was fleeing from the scene of a crime he had committed he would volunteer to go with a law enforcement officer to Red Bluff, which was some 90 miles way in the opposite direction from Chico where he wanted to go when he was stopped by Officer Knox. It is hard to believe particularly that he would want to go there in shackles.
Findings and Order, at 3-4. Certainly, the prosecutor's motion to amend raises a number of legal questions. Does the court have jurisdiction to amend its findings after the judgment and sentence? Isn't the prosecutor's request a motion for reconsideration without legal grounds (i.e., no new facts or law)? But how about as a matter of policy? Why should the U.S. Attorney's Office be trying to hide adverse credibility findings of its agents, especially when the court's ultimate ruling is largely in its favor and the case is over? The government doesn't represent the officers in this case, right? Isn't there a strong public interest in having the facts come out?
Here's the court's Order (Download U.S. v. Garcia Order & findings of fact 6-26-09) and the prosecutor's 12/12/09 post-judgment motion to amend (Download Garcia Mtn to amend court's ruling). Garcia's attorney's (Kathy Druliner) response is due Monday and the prosecutor's reply due 1/19/10. See 1/14/2010 Who Does The U.S. Attorney Represent? Part 2 Comments?
[Postscript: See 2/4/10 Post On Order Denying Motion To Amend]