United States of America v. Joaquín Guzmán Loera
|United States of America v Joaquín Guzmán Loera|
|Court||United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York|
|Decided||February 12, 2019|
|Verdict||Joaquín Guzmán Loera found guilty on all criminal charges.|
|Guzmán will be sentenced on June 25, 2019.|
|Judge(s) sitting||Brian Cogan|
United States of America v. Joaquín Guzmán Loera is a federal criminal court case against Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, a Mexican drug lord and former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Guzmán was extradited from Mexico to the United States in January 2017, where he pleaded not guilty to all counts against him in Brooklyn, New York. His charges included drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder. His defense asserted that he was not the organized crime leader that the prosecution claimed. The trial, often characterized as a trial of the century, began on November 5, 2018, and lasted until February 12, 2019, when the jury found him guilty of all counts. This conviction carries a mandatory life imprisonment, and he is scheduled for sentencing on June 25, 2019.
Background and extradition
Mexico formally launched a renewed process of extradition to the United States two days after Guzmán was recaptured on January 8, 2016, from his second prison escape. His lawyers mounted "numerous and creative injunctions" to defend against extradition, and the process was expected to take from one to six years. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto did not have the authority to issue an executive order to immediately extradite Guzmán without due process. A critical requirement for extradition was that the US had to guarantee that they would not use the death penalty against Guzmán if he was found guilty of homicide charges.
Guzmán is wanted in Chicago, San Diego, New York City, New Hampshire, Miami, and Texas, in addition to having indictments in at least seven different US federal courts. Charges in the United States include conspiracy to import and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy association, organized crime against health, money laundering, homicide, and possession of firearms.
Guzmán was transferred on May 5, 2016, to a prison near Ciudad Juarez, near the border with Texas, and Mexico expected to extradite him to the United States by February 2017. On October 17, Vicente Antonio Bermúdez Zacarías was assassinated while jogging near Mexico City; he was a federal judge involved in Guzmán's extradition proceedings. On January 19, 2017, Guzmán was extradited to the US to face charges related to running the Sinaloa cartel. The Mexican Government said in a formal statement, "The government of the Republic announces that today the Fifth Appellate Criminal Court in Mexico City ruled to deny the protection of the Federal Justice system to Joaquín Guzmán Loera against the agreements made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 20, 2016, which permitted his extradition to the United States of America in order to be tried for various crimes, after finding that those agreements complied with constitutional requirements, the requirements of bilateral treaties and other legal rulings that are in effect and that his human rights were not and have not been violated by these proceedings". Guzmán is housed at the maximum-security wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York.
"Not guilty" plea
On January 20, 2017, Guzmán pled not guilty to a 17-count indictment in the United States District Court in New York. Guzmán was charged in six separate US indictments. The charges include money laundering, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder in Chicago, Miami, New York and other cities. Then-US Attorney General Sally Yates called him the "alleged leader of a multi-billion dollar, multi-national criminal enterprise that funneled drugs onto our streets and violence and misery into our communities". Guzmán, during his court appearance in the Eastern District of New York, pled not guilty to all of the charges and waived his right for all of them to be read aloud in court. Guzmán, who does not speak English, used a translator at the hearing. He was represented by two federal public defenders at his arraignment hearing. Guzmán subsequently replaced his public defenders with Eduardo Balarezo, William Purpura, and Jeffrey Lichtman.
US District Judge Brian Cogan first scheduled the trial of Guzmán for September 5, 2018, and then postponed it two months to November 5, 2018. The trial was dubbed as a trial of the century due to its extensive media coverage and drama surrounding the allegations against Guzmán. Though originally charged with 17 counts, the prosecution decided to reduce them to 10 to speed up the trial. The jury selection process was agreed to be held in a rare closed session conducted in the judge's private chambers. Meanwhile, one of Guzmán's three lawyers, Eduardo Balarezo, warned that keeping the jurors' identities secret was not necessary for their safety, and it would jeopardize a fair trial by implying that Guzmán is dangerous and guilty. According to the lead prosecutor, Andrea Goldbarg, jurors' anonymity and an armed escort are necessary even if Guzmán is in isolation, due to his history of having jurors and witnesses killed. The judge agreed to keep the jurors' anonymity and also to transport them to and from the courthouse by US Marshals and sequestered from the public while in the courthouse. Similarly, the identity of the testifying witnesses was kept secret. The trial was expected to last approximately four months.
In a June 26, 2018, courtroom appearance, Guzmán's lawyers suggested that Guzmán may have been merely a lieutenant in the Sinaloa Cartel, not the leader, and requested more information about that possibility from the government through a Brady disclosure.
Guzmán's trial started on November 5, 2018, in Brooklyn, when jury selection began. A large security surveillance was placed in and around the court building. Authorities closed the Brooklyn Bridge while transporting Guzmán to the courtroom from his prison cell; they stated they were considering other methods of transportation to alleviate the traffic disruptions, since the trial was expected to last several months. It was confirmed later that week that he was being held at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn from Monday to Friday to avoid the bridge's closure. Opening arguments began on November 13, 2018, and closing arguments took place on January 31, 2019.
In total, 56 witnesses testified for the prosecution, including cartel members and federal agents. At least 14 of them were Guzmán's close associates. Although much evidence was accumulated over the years, the FBI was able in 2010 to locate and persuade Guzmán's IT expert, Cristian Rodriguez, to collaborate with the US authorities. Rodriguez had set up software that logged the call history and locations of encrypted cell phones for roughly 100 members of Guzmán's organization and associates, but the FBI had been unable to crack the code. This collaboration by Rodriguez provided the FBI with additional detailed evidence of Guzmán's operations.
On February 1, 2019, one day after the closing arguments, court documents were unsealed that alleged that Guzmán regularly had sexual relations with girls as young as 13, drugging them prior without their knowledge. According to the opened documents, a cooperating witness stated that Guzmán called "the youngest of the girls his 'vitamins' because he believed that sexual activity with young girls gave him 'life'". The jury was not made aware of these accusations since the judge believed that they were unrelated to his drug charges. On February 4, the judge ordered the jury to start deliberations.
The jury reached a verdict on February 12, 2019, after six days of deliberation. He was found guilty of all counts and is scheduled for sentencing on June 25, 2019. The first count of Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE) included 27 separate violations and was the biggest count in his indictment. It required a mandatory life imprisonment without parole. The jury decided that he was guilty of 25 of the 27 violations within the CCE charge. When the verdict was read, Guzmán appeared to be stunned. After the session concluded, Guzmán smiled and waved at his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro with a thumbs-up; she said that she was fine when asked how she was doing, and then left the courtroom.
Cogan thanked the jury for their meticulous work throughout the trial. Guzmán's defense said that they were disappointed with the verdict but respected the jury's decision. They said that they faced unprecedented obstacles in defending Guzmán. Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman told reporters, "This was a case that was literally an avalanche, avalanche of evidence. Of course we’re going to appeal." US Attorney Richard Donoghue spoke to the press and said that this conviction was a success for the US and Mexico, including the families affected by the drug violence and addiction.
Juror's interview with the press
The day the verdict was made, one of the jurors reached out to Keegan Hamilton from VICE News to talk about the trial. Although the jurors were anonymous throughout the trial for security reasons, they were free to speak to the press after it concluded but cautioned not to by the judge. The juror, who declined to provide a real name, told Hamilton what the jurors discussed throughout the trial. They shared details of the notes the jury wrote throughout the trial, what they discussed in deliberations, the security measures that were put in place for them, how the jury members convened with one another, and their views of Guzmán, his legal team, the prosecution, and the witnesses who testified.
In addition, they explained that deliberations dragged longer than expected because of one juror who was not comfortable convicting Guzmán with life imprisonment. They explained that that opinion of the jurors varied greatly; there were some who were indifferent, not willing to participate, fixed on finding Guzmán guilty, and/or of finding him innocent and handing an acquittal. They said that the jury as a whole was overwhelmed with the decision of sending Guzmán to prison for the rest of his life. They said that at least four jury members cried after a verdict was made.
One revealing detail was that they claimed was that at least five jurors violated the judge's order to refrain from researching Guzmán in the news and in social media during the trial, and of talking about the case with each other when they were not in court time. The juror also said they checked Hamilton's Twitter account for updates on the trial. They said that they also read the news about Guzmán sexual harassment allegations, and lied to the judge about ever reading them. Guzmán's defense said they were deeply concerned with this revelation, and stated that the jury may have had "prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible allegations" against Guzmán. They stated that they would analyze all options before taking action since they believe this meant Guzmán was not guaranteed a fair trial. The U.S. Attorney General Office declined to comment on this revelation.
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