The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a challenge from a drug defendant who said his case shouldn’t have gone before a federal judge who was under investigation for drug crimes himself.
U.S. District Judge Jack Camp declared a mistrial in Rolando Martinez’s 2010 case when the jury deadlocked, a day before Camp was arrested on drug charges that ended his career on the bench and led to a brief prison sentence.
Martinez, a trucker found with $1.5 million worth of marijuana in his tractor-trailer, ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 17 years in prison by visiting U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson.
Last week a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit rejected arguments by Martinez’s lawyer, Paul Kish, that prosecutors engaged in misconduct by allowing the case to go forward in front of Camp. Kish said the government, aware Camp was under investigation, should have moved to dismiss the case, but prosecutors would have had to lie if Camp asked why they wanted the case dropped.
In a per curiam decision, the panel rejected Martinez’s argument. "Camp was the target of a Government investigation, and the Government was under no affirmative obligation to take any action that might have indicated to him he was under suspicion," the unpublished, unsigned decision by Judge Gerald B. Tjoflat, Senior Judge Susan Black and U.S. District Senior Judge J. Frederick Motz of Maryland, sitting by designation.
"Martinez fails to show he suffered actual prejudice since he received a new trial in front of another district judge," the decision added. "The record reflects that certain information was turned over to Martinez’s counsel and that the Government’s entire investigative file was turned over to (and carefully reviewed by) Judge Lawson. The procedure followed by the Government was sufficient and proper."
U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said in a statement, "We’re pleased that the Eleventh Circuit agreed that we acted professionally and appropriately in the face of difficult circumstances."
"Mr. Martinez’s trial coincided with the first reports that former Judge Camp was engaged in criminal conduct, and those allegations had not been fully investigated and substantiated until after the trial began. That placed us in an extraordinarily difficult position as Mr. Martinez’s trial went forward," added Yates, whose statement was delivered by First Assistant U.S. Attorney John Horn, who argued for the U.S. in the case.
Martinez on appeal said the government didn’t have evidence that he knew he had the marijuana in his truck in the first trial, and Camp, who was using drugs at the time, should have entered a judgment of acquittal after the prosecution rested its case.
"The evidence of Martinez’s knowledge at the first trial, although circumstantial, was more than sufficient to withstand Martinez’s motion for judgment of acquittal," the decision said.
Kish said he was disappointed in the decision and will ask for an en banc hearing.
The decision recounts the facts leading to the Martinez conviction.
He was stopped by the Georgia State Patrol in April 2009 when his tractor-trailer swerved and a sound emanated from it indicating a possibly flat tire. The patrolman noticed a number of suspect issues, including no safety seal on the cargo door handles and irregular shipping paperwork.
The Eleventh Circuit said the "large quantity of marijuana in Martinez’s possession, his nervous behavior during the traffic stop and his inconsistent statements to law enforcement officers could lead a jury to reasonably infer he knew the marijuana was in his vehicle," the decision says.
Kish had argued federal prosecutors "exploited" an "incendiary" situation between the first and second trial, benefitting unfairly from a jailhouse informant who told authorities Martinez confessed he knew he was carrying drugs in his truck.
Again in a footnote, the court dismissed his charge.
There "is no evidence in the record to suggest that the Government sought a mistrial after the jury hung in the first trial for the purpose of gathering additional evidence in the case."
The Eleventh Circuit case is U.S. v. Rolando Martinez, No. 11-12131.