This is an audio case brief of United States v. Cortes-Caban, 691 F. 3d 1(Its Cir. 2013). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
From 2005 to 2007, Lieutenant Dennis Muñiz served as the director of the Puerto Rico Police Department’s Drugs and Narcotics Division. While he was director, certain members of the division engaged in a fabrication practice of planting evidence and conducting illegal searches and seizures in violation of the fourth amendment of the US Constitution. Muniz participated and assisted in overseeing this fabrication practice. At trial, Muñiz, testifying as a government witness, stated that the drugs used by the officers for purposes of fabrication typically were stored in a metal black box that generally was under the care and custody of Santiago, a supervisor in the Division. It was Santiago’s practice to store the box in a file cabinet in his office. The box contained a mélange of contraband, including crack, cocaine, heroin, aluminum strips, drug paraphernalia, and ammunition rounds. Such contraband was given to agents prior to their execution of a search warrant or other intervention to ensure that an arrest would ensue. Testimony at trial confirmed that Muñiz and Santiago specifically instructed officers to plant drugs if a search or intervention was not “positive,” i.e., did not produce valid grounds for arrest.
Ten officers were charged in two-count indictment with (1) conspiracy to violate the civil rights of defendants arrested after evidence was planted , and (2) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substance, 21 U.S.C.§ 841.
Three officers—Santiago, Cortes, and Dominguez—were convicted for conspiracy to distribute drugs and challenged their conviction under 21 U.S.C.§ 841.
21 U.S.C.§ 841.
The statute reads in relevant part;
It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally
The officers challenged their conviction under the conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute statute. They argued that they did not have the specific intent to distribute the drugs.
The issue is whether the defendants had a specific intent to distribute drugs when they transferred drugs between the officers and planted said drugs to facilitate arrest.
Courts usually distinguish between two kinds of intent; general intent and specific intent. General intentrequires a showing that the defendant had the mental intent to perform the physical act. The defendant need not, however, intend the consequences of his or her act. Specific intent on the other hand requires a showing that the defendant intended the proscribed outcome as his purpose.
Here the relevant specific intent that the defendant must have is a specific intent to distribute the controlled substance. The court found that there was evidence to support a conclusion that the officers had the specific intent to distribute the controlled substance.
The officer’s transfer of the drugs between the officers followed by the planting of the drugs to facilities arrests amounts to distribution.
It is irrelevant that the officer’s ultimate objective was to plant the evidence to facilitate the arrest, and not to distribute the drugs. The statutory test is not of the officer’s ultimate objective. The officers still had the specific intent of distributing the drugs before satisfying their ultimate objective of planting false evidence. It is also irrelevant for distribution purpose that the defendants may not have intended to either further the incidence of drug abuse or intend to introduce or circulate the drugs into society’s illicit drug market. What matters as to specific intent is that the defendant intended to transfer the drugs to someone else.
The officer’s convictions were upheld.
** Specific intent and general intent is for common law approach. The MPC has its own approach on what satisfies a defendant’s state of mind.