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United States v. Ocasio-Ruiz

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 27, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
KYVANI OCASIO-RUIZ, Defendant, Appellant

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT. FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Jose A. Fuste, U.S. District Judge.

Anita Hill Adames for appellant.

Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Francisco A. Besosa-Martí nez, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Souter,[*] Associate Justice, and Stahl, Circuit Judge.

OPINION

Page 44

SOUTER, Associate Justice.

Kyvani Ocasio-Ruiz was convicted of a number of crimes arising out of a carjacking and murder in Puerto Rico. The government's

Page 45

evidence at trial rested on the testimony of a cooperating witness, who testified that he, Ocasio-Ruiz, and four other co-conspirators (including Luis Maldonado-Castro) carjacked Joseph A. Seymour. His evidence was that, after interrogating Seymour on suspicion of snitching to a rival drug gang, the group drove to a secluded place, with Ocasio-Ruiz and Maldonado-Castro sitting on opposite sides of Seymour in the back seat of a truck. The witness (who was in the back of the truck) heard one gunshot shortly after he heard Ocasio-Ruiz ask Maldonado-Castro for his pistol.

At trial, Ocasio-Ruiz sought to introduce the testimony of Maldonado-Castro's mother. Maldonado-Castro had been killed before trial, but his mother was prepared to testify that, shortly before his death, he came to her in her house and confessed that he alone had killed Seymour. Specifically, the mother proffered that her son said that " he was by himself all the time."

The district court refused to admit the mother's testimony, concluding that it was not hearsay admissible under Fed.R.Evid. 804(b)(3), which permits the admission of hearsay declarations against interest of an unavailable witness only when sufficient corroboration exists for the hearsay itself. The district court found " absolutely no corroborating circumstances."

We reverse. The district court's finding was erroneous, as this court has recognized that statements against interest made to a close relation bear at least some corroborating indicia of truthfulness. And because the error is not harmless, we vacate the convictions as to all counts and remand the case to the district court.

I.

Ocasio-Ruiz was indicted and brought to trial on four counts: (1) he and his co-defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired, with intent to cause death and serious bodily harm, to take an automobile from Seymour by force, violence, or intimidation, resulting in Seymour's death; (2) he and his co-defendants aided and abetted each other, intending to cause death and serious bodily harm, knowingly and wilfully to take an automobile from Seymour by force, violence, or intimidation, resulting in Seymour's death; (3) he and his co-defendants aided and abetted each other in knowingly using, brandishing, and discharging a firearm during a carjacking; and (4) he and his co-defendants aided and ...


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