Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Soto

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 23, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CAMERON SOTO

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION TO SEVER

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Charged by indictment of the sale of fentanyl on one day causing death and the sale of fentanyl the next day, the defendant seeks to dismiss the sale causing death count and to sever counts for trial. His theory of dismissal is that the sale causing death count is fatally flawed because it does not allege that he intended to cause death and his theory for severance is that the trial of sale causing death count would be prejudicial to the trial of the sale count. The Court denies both motions. The Court denies the motion to dismiss because the law does not require that the Government prove that a defendant knew that the sale would cause death. The Court denies the motion to sever because the counts were properly joined and any prejudice from the simultaneous trial of both counts can be addressed by proper jury instructions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 6, 2017, the Government filed a criminal complaint in the District of Maine asserting three Counts against Cameron Soto:

         Count 1

On about March 14, 2017, in the District of Maine . . . Cameron Soto knowingly and intentionally distributed a mixture or substance containing fentanyl, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a)(1). It is further alleged that the penalty provisions of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(b)(1)(C) apply to the conduct described herein . . . . As a result of the distribution of fentanyl committed by . . . Cameron Soto and charged in Count 1 of this Complaint, death or serious bodily injury did result from the use of a controlled substance, namely fentanyl.

         Count 2

On about March 15, 2017, in the District of Maine . . . Cameron Soto knowingly and intentionally distributed a mixture or substance containing fentanyl, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a)(1). It is further alleged that the penalty provisions of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(b)(1)(C) apply to the conduct described herein.

         Count 3

On about March 14, 2017, in the District of Maine . . . Cameron Soto having been conviction of the following crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year, specifically:
Unlawful Trafficking in Scheduled Drugs, in the Knox County Superior Court, Docket Number ROCSC-CR-2014-00001, judgment having entered on about September 22, 2014 knowingly possessed in and affecting commerce a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol bearing serial number FXX0765. In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2).

Criminal Compl. at 1-2 (ECF No. 3).

         On November 14, 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Soto on the same three Counts and for the same conduct alleged in the Criminal Complaint. Indictment (ECF No. 32). On December 12, 2018, Mr. Soto moved for an interim status conference and to continue his case to April 1, 2019. Def.'s Mot. to Continue Trial and Schedule Interim Status Conference (ECF No. 88). On December 13, 2018, the Court granted the motion. Speedy Trial Order (ECF No. 89). On January 4, 2019, the Court held a status conference at which Mr. Soto confirmed that he intended to file motions and the Court set a filing schedule accordingly. Min. Entry (ECF No. 91).

         On February 11, 2019, Mr. Soto filed a motion to sever and a motion to dismiss Count One. Def.'s Mot. To Sever Count 1 (ECF No. 97) (Def.'s Mot. to Sever); Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Count 1 (ECF No. 98) (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss). On March 20, 2019, the Government filed responses in opposition to Mr. Soto's motions. Gov't's Resp. To Def.'s Mot. To Dismiss Count 1 (ECF No. 103) (Gov't's Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss); Gov't's Resp. To Def.'s Mot. To Sever (ECF No. 104) (Gov't's Opp'n to Mot. to Sever).

         II. THE PARTIES' POSITIONS

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         1.Defendant's Memorandum[1]

         Mr. Soto argues Count One of the Indictment violates his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights because it charges him with a criminal offense that includes a mandatory minimum sentence but requires no scienter requirement for the offense's “death resulting” enhancing element. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 1. Mr. Soto acknowledges that “[w]hile there is no absolute prohibition against strict liability crimes, the common law tradition . . . disfavors such crimes that the Supreme Court ‘will infer, absent an express indication to the contrary, that Congress intended such a mental-state element.'” Id. at 2 (quoting Torres v. Lynch, 136 S.Ct. 1619, 1631 (2016)). Mr. Soto says Congress has not expressly indicated that it intended § 841(b)(1)(C)'s “death resulting” element to be a strict liability crime, and that the general rule for criminal offenses is that a mens rea requirement applies to each element of the offense. Id. (citations omitted).

         Mr. Soto argues that the language of § 841(a)-(b) paired with recent caselaw from the United States Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit “demonstrates that the mens rea requirement must apply to the ‘death resulting' element of § 841(b)(1)(C), just as it applies to the mandatory minimum triggering drug quantity element.” Id. Prior to 2013, Mr. Soto notes that § 841(a)(1)'s scienter requirement was interpreted only to apply to the act of distribution, and not the result of the act. Id. at 2-3 (citations omitted). Mr. Soto contends that after 2013, there have been significant changes to how courts interpret statutory language and sentencing enhancements. Id. at 3. Mr. Soto claims that in light of Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013) and Burrage v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 881 (2014), the drug quantity that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence and the “death resulting” enhancement are no longer sentencing factors; rather, they are elements of aggravated crimes distinct from § 841(a)(1)'s general offense. Id.

         While acknowledging that neither Alleyne nor Burrage addresses whether a mens rea element is required, Mr. Soto says the First Circuit has required a mens rea element for a mandatory minimum drug quantity. Id. at 4 (citing United States v. Pizarro, 772 F.3d 284, 294 (1st Cir. 2014)). Mr. Soto asserts the same conclusion applies here. Id. Mr. Soto highlights the Supreme Court's granting certiorari in Rehaif v. United States, 888 F.3d 1138 (11th Cir 2018), cert. granted, 139 S.Ct. 914 (No. 17-9560) (Jan. 11, 2019), as evidence that the Supreme Court is vigilant in avoiding convicting individuals who have not “knowingly commit[ed] the entire offense of which they stand accused, and not just a piece of that offense.” Id.

         2. Government's Memorandum

         The Government contends that § 841(b)(1)(C) “has two principal elements: (i) knowing or intentional distribution of [a controlled substance], § 841(a)(1), and (ii) death caused by (‘resulting from') the use of that drug, (b)(1)(C).” Gov't's Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss at 1-2 (citing Burrage, 134 S.Ct. at 887). The Government says the Burrage Court was “fully aware of its holding in” Alleyne, and Burrage does not include a knowing or intentional requirement for the “resulting death” element. Id. at 2.

         The Government argues Mr. Soto's reliance on Pizarro is misplaced, as it did not add a new mens rea element to § 841 but “held that juries must find requisite drug quantities for application of mandatory minimum and statutory maximum triggering elements.” Id. (citing Pizarro, 772 F.3d at 294). The Government claims the First Circuit did not extend the mens rea requirement to § 841's second element, and correspondingly, there is also no mens rea requirement for § 841(b)(1)(C)'s “death resulting” element. Id. The Government maintains that every court that has considered Mr. Soto's argument has rejected it. Id. at 2-3 (citing cases). The Government further argues that Mr. Soto's provides no authority showing § 841(b)(1)(C) is unconstitutional and his assertion “that he will be at risk of conviction without knowingly committing the entire offense of which he stands accused, is unavailing.” Id. at 3 (citing Def.'s Mot to Dismiss at 4) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Government avers that criminal statutes often punish individuals for the unintended consequences of their unlawful actions. Id. (citing Dean v. United States, 556 U.S. 568, 575 (2009)).

         B. Motion to Sever

         1. Defendant's Memorandum

         Mr. Soto asserts the difference between Count One and Count Two of the Indictment is Count One contains an allegation that Mr. Soto distributed a mixture containing fentanyl resulting in death or serious bodily injury. Def.'s Mot. to Sever at 1. Mr. Soto claims that for the Government to meet its burden on Count One, it “must prove two elements not present in Count II: (1) that an individual suffered death or serious bodily injury, and (2) that ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.