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Court Applies Collateral Estoppel to Stop Illegal Reentry Prosecution

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 07, 2012 12:02 PM

This week, a defendant prevailed in his appeal to dismiss an indictment charging him with one count of illegal reentry by an alien.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Emiliano Valdiviez-Garza that the indictment must be dismissed based on collateral estoppel, and reversed and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the indictment.

The Government must establish four criteria for a charge of illegal reentry by an alien beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) the defendant was an alien at the time of the offense; (2) who had previously been removed or deported; (3) and had reentered the United States after removal; (4) without having received the express consent of the Attorney General.

Here, Valdiviez-Garza argued that the indictment must be dismissed on collateral estoppel grounds because a jury, in a previous federal criminal trial for illegal reentry, found against the Government on the indispensable "alien" element. In that earlier case, Valdiviez-Garza countered the Government's contention of alienage with evidence that he derived United States citizenship through his father

The doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes the same parties from re-litigating a matter "when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment." The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals applies collateral estoppel as "a narrow exception to the Government's right to prosecute a defendant in separate trials for related conduct." It applies "only where a fact or issue necessarily determined in the defendant's favor in the former trial is an essential element of conviction at the second trial."

To determine whether collateral estoppel applies, a court considers what facts were necessarily determined during the acquittal at the first trial, and whether the facts determined as part of the prior acquittal are an essential element of the offense charged in the subsequent proceeding. In this case, alienage was essential to the current indictment, so the Eleventh Circuit only reviewed whether Valdiviez-Garza's acquittal in the previous trial was necessarily based on the jury's reasonable doubt about his alienage.

Noting that earlier trial record reflected the jury's reasonable doubt that Valdiviez-Garza was an alien, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals applied collateral estoppel to the more recent illegal reentry by an alien indictment.

If your client has beat the rap on an element of a crime once, and is again facing charges based on the same element, you may be able to get the indictment dismissed based on collateral estoppel.

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