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GOVERNMENT VIRGIN ISLANDS v. MARTINEZ (04/30/87)

argued: April 30, 1987.

GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
v.
MARTINEZ, JUAN A. JUAN MARTINEZ, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands-St. Croix, (D.C. Criminal No. 84-00026 [Rule 33]).

Seitz, Higginbotham and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Higginbotham

HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge

This appeal returns to us a novel question under the due process doctrine of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 10 L. Ed. 2d 215, 83 S. Ct. 1194 (1963). In Government of the V.I. v. Martinez, 780 F.2d 302 (3d Cir. 1985) ("Martinez I"), we remanded appellant's Brady claim to the district court for additional factfinding. The district court concluded that appellant had vitiated his otherwise valid Brady claim because the materiality of his statement to a police officer derived only from the fact that he had deliberately concealed from his lawyer the information contained in his statement. Government of the V.I. v. Martinez, 642 F. Supp. 1571, 158c4 (D.V.I. 1986). We will affirm the district court's denial of appellant's motion for a new trial.

I.

The facts underlying this appeal have been set forth in considerable detail by this Court and by the district court. See Martinez I, 780 F.2d at 303-05; Martinez, 642 F. Supp. at 1572-80. Drawing from those comprehensive accounts, we summarize matters as follows:

Appellant Juan A. Martinez killed Felipe Gomez on March 4, 1984. Rejecting Martinez's alibi defense, a jury subsequently convicted him of first degree murder. Later that day, during a sentencing proceeding, Martinez revealed that, in a conversation with Detective Oscar Vigo four days before the trial began, he had confessed to killing Gomez. The essence of Martinez's statement to Vigo was that Gomez was armed with a shotgun when he went to the apartment where Martinez was staying, intending to kill him, and that when Gomez pointed this shotgun at Martinez, Martinez killed Gomez in self-defense. Martinez never told his lawyer of this version of events or of his statement to Vigo, however, and the statement was not disclosed to defense counsel or introduced at Martinez's trial. Martinez ultimately was given a life sentence without parole.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, Martinez moved for a new trial. His motion argued that the prosecution's failure to disclose his statement to Vigo violated Martinez's constitutional right, under Brady and its progeny, to a fair trial. Although the district court denied the Rule 33 motion, we remanded the matter to the district court for an evidentiary hearing and for specific factual findings. Martinez I, 780 F.2d at 311.

The district court, which followed with care the dictates of our initial opinion, has substantially clarified the factual setting of this dispute. On remand, the district court found the following: (1) Martinez's statement to Vigo was given voluntarily; (2) this statement was never reduced to writing by any police or prosecution official, and thus was not covered by Martinez's specific discovery request; (3) although Vigo investigated Martinez's story, the prosecution derived no additional exculpatory evidence from Martinez's statement to Vigo; (4) there was no additional exculpatory evidence to be derived from Martinez's statement to Vigo; (5) the prosecutor had no actual knowledge of this statement until it was recounted by Martinez at the sentencing proceeding;*fn1 (6) Martinez was able, in terms of his English language aptitude and his understanding of the systemic role of a public defender, to communicate truthfully with his trial attorney; and (7) knowledge of Martinez's statement to Vigo would have altered drastically the advice he received from his trial counsel. On appeal, Martinez disputes none of these findings. Brief and Appendix for the Appellant at 2.

After developing this expanded factual record, the district court denied Martinez's remanded new trial motion. It concluded in essence that, although the government's failure to disclose Martinez's statement to Vigo constituted a Brady violation that otherwise would entitle Martinez to a new trial,*fn2 the violation was cured by Martinez's willful failure to disclose his statement to his trial attorney. Martinez has appealed the district court's denial of his new trial motion, and our jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C. ยง 1291 (1982). As we read Martinez's briefs, he advances three distinct arguments: (1) that he, similarly to the defendant in Nagell v. United States, 354 F.2d 441 (5th Cir. 1966), was incapable of communicating truthfully with his attorney; (2) that his knowledge and concealment of his statement to Detective Vigo did not legally vitiate his otherwise meritorious Brady claim; and (3) that the district court improperly weighed the legal importance of encouraging scrupulous prosecutorial conduct when it in effect sanctioned Martinez for concealing his statement from his attorney. We will address these arguments in turn.

II.

In Nagell, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court's denial of a new trial motion based upon newly discovered evidence. This evidence, which was known to defendant Nagell but was not disclosed to his attorneys until after he had been convicted for an abortive attempt to rob a bank, concerned "serious organic brain damage" that Nagell had previously suffered in an airplane crash. 354 F.2d at 445-46. This evidence was contained in an FBI report of an interview with a neurologist and psychiatrist who had intensively studied Nagell's brain injury, but it was not disclosed despite the government's assurance to "counsel that all documents material to Nagell's case would be made available to them." Id. at 446. The evidence indicated this medical expert's inability to say that Nagell "was reasonable able . . . factually [to] confer with his attorney or to raise a defense." Id. at 447.

Martinez, drawing an analogy to Nagell, claims that he was incapacitated by family pressure from communicating truthfully with his attorney concerning the fact that he had killed Gomez. He therefore contends that his foreknowledge of his statement to Detective Vigo admitting as much should not negate his Brady claim. The district court, in a brief footnote, dismissed this claim as "ludicrous." Government of the V.I., 642 F. Supp. at 1583 n.7.

We will affirm the district court's rejection of this argument. The record indicates that Martinez didn't want his family to find out that he had killed Gomez. It also indicated that Martinez's father had threatened to kill himself if his son ever got into this kind of serious legal trouble.*fn3 In addition, Martinez's ...


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