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. Rodriguez-Soriano

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
CHRISTOPHER RODRIGUEZ-SORIANO, a/k/a Christopher Soriano, a/k/a Christopher Soriano-Rodriguez, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: January 30, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Liam O'Grady, District Judge. (1:17-cr-00197-LO-1)

         ARGUED:

          Caroline Swift Platt, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant.

          James L. Trump, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Geremy C. Kamens, Federal Public Defender, Shannon Quill, Assistant Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant.

          G. Zach Terwilliger, United States Attorney, Christopher K. Grieco, Special Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, RICHARDSON, Circuit Judge, and DUNCAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

          GREGORY, Chief Judge

         Christopher Rodriguez-Soriano was found guilty of knowingly making a false statement to a licensed firearms dealer in the acquisition of a firearm, stating that he was the actual purchaser of the firearms when he was acquiring them for another individual. He appeals the district court's exclusion of proposed expert testimony at trial, as well as denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal. Rodriguez-Soriano challenges the district court's determination that proposed expert testimony related to false confessions, excluded pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, was not reliable or relevant, and that the risk of prejudice outweighed its probative value, and thus it was also properly excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. We conclude that, for the reasons stated below, we need not determine whether the expert testimony was properly excluded because the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to independently corroborate Rodriguez-Soriano's confession. We therefore reverse the district court's judgment of conviction and remand for the entry of a judgment of acquittal.

         I.

         On July 25, 2015, Rodriguez-Soriano purchased two firearms, a Ruger P95 9mm pistol and a Beemiller Hi-Point C9 9mm pistol, from a Northern Virginia location of Gander Mountain Company, a licensed firearms dealer. At the time of purchase, Rodriguez-Soriano completed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ("ATF") Form 4473, "Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition of Pistols and Revolvers," which listed him as the purchaser of both firearms. He marked the box indicating that he was the actual buyer of the firearms listed on the form.[1] Gander Mountain completed another ATF-required document, a "Multiple Sale Summary," documenting that Rodriguez-Soriano purchased both firearms in a single transaction.

         In November 2016, a Washington, D.C. homicide detective sought the assistance of the ATF after receiving information that one of the firearms Rodriguez-Soriano purchased was used in a homicide. Based on this information, ATF Special Agent David Burkholder and ATF Task Force Officer Kevin McConnell interviewed Rodriguez-Soriano on two occasions about his gun purchases.[2]

         Rodriguez-Soriano initially told the agents that the two firearms he purchased were stolen sometime in late 2015 and described the circumstances surrounding their theft. According to Rodriguez-Soriano, he didn't know exactly when they were stolen, and didn't notice they were missing until mid-November. At some point during that time period he found the closet where he kept the guns in disarray, but its condition did not alert him to the theft. He then revealed to the agents he suspected that a friend had broken the lock on his basement door to enter and steal the guns, but he didn't immediately notice the lock was broken and could not say which of his friends knew he had firearms. He later identified one, who he referred to as "D."

         When asked why he purchased two guns, Rodriguez-Soriano responded that the Hi-Point pistol "kept jamming" at the shooting range, so he returned to purchase the other firearm. The agents immediately knew this statement was false because the ATF forms documenting the purchase indicated that the two firearms had been purchased in a single transaction. The agents then "pivoted," expressing doubt as to the veracity of his story. J.A. 420. The agents informed Rodriguez-Soriano that straw purchasers often say that guns they have purchased were stolen and informed him it was a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to lie to federal agents. They revealed that they knew he had purchased the guns for someone else because the person had told them so, the situation was very serious because one of the guns had been used in a homicide, and they were giving him the opportunity to "come clean." J.A. 420-21. They characterized the purchase of the gun as "minimal" compared to what had been done with it, but warned him about continuing to "go down the path" of lying about the guns being stolen. J.A. 421.

         Rodriguez-Soriano then confessed to the agents that he purchased the two 9mm handguns at the request of an acquaintance named "Ron." He revealed that Ron approached him in late May 2015 about buying two handguns for him. Rodriguez-Soriano did not immediately accept Ron's offer, but when their paths crossed again, Rodriguez-Soriano told him, "I can do that favor for you." Ron gave Rodriguez-Soriano $650 to buy two guns. After the purchase, Rodriguez-Soriano met Ron and his friend, "D," in the parking lot of a convenience store where Rodriguez-Soriano entered their car, showed them the guns, and left the guns on the back seat.

         After Rodriguez-Soriano confessed, the agents reviewed Form 4473 with him. He admitted it was his name, information, and mark in the box indicating that he was the actual buyer of the firearms. At a follow-up interview conducted eighteen days later, Rodriguez-Soriano confirmed the statements he made in his prior interview. Rodriguez-Soriano was indicted on one count of knowingly making a false statement to a licensed firearms dealer in the acquisition of a firearm, stating that he was the actual purchaser of the firearms when he was acquiring them for another individual, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1)(A).

         Agent Burkholder, an ATF records management employee, and Gander Mountain's former general manager, as the representative of the licensed firearms dealer, testified for the government at trial. But the homicide detective and the men who, according to Rodriguez-Soriano's confession, gave him the cash for and took possession of the guns he purchased did not. The gun used in the homicide was not introduced into evidence. Rodriguez-Soriano did not present any evidence in response to the government's case. He instead moved for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because the only evidence of criminal activity was Rodriguez-Soriano's own uncorroborated statement to the ATF agents. The district court denied the motion, finding that "given the other evidence surrounding his confession," further corroboration was not "legally necessary" because the government produced sufficient evidence as to each of the elements of the offense. J.A. 233-34; 239. The jury found Rodriguez-Soriano guilty of the offense charged.

         This appeal followed.

         II.

         This Court reviews de novo the district court's denial of the motion for acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. United States v. Jaensch, 665 F.3d 83, 93 (4th Cir. 2001); Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, an appellate court must ask whether "there is substantial evidence, taking the view most favorable to the Government, to support" the conviction. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942). "[S]ubstantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 862 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc); see also United States v. Kasai, 736 Fed.Appx. 414, 415 (4th Cir. 2018) (citing United States v. Cowden, 882 F.3d 464, 474 (4th Cir. 2018). "[A]ppellate reversal on grounds of insufficient evidence . . . will be confined "to cases where the prosecution's failure is clear." Burgos, 94 F.3d at 862 (citing Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1, 17 (1978); see also United States v. Palomino-Coronado, 805 F.3d 127, 130 (4th Cir. 2015); ...


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.