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U.S. v. Garcia

April 01, 1996

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ALFREDO C. GARCIA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. (No. 89-10017-CR). James Lawrence King, Judge.

Before Kravitch, Dubina and Carnes, Circuit Judges.

Author: Carnes

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

Alfredo Garcia appeals his 1993 conviction under the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. ยงยง 1952 and 2. Garcia's Travel Act conviction was based on the charge that on or about April 17, 1988, Garcia traveled in foreign commerce with the intent to facilitate the importation of cocaine. Garcia contends that the district court erred in holding that his 1993 conviction under the Travel Act is not barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel as a result of his 1989 acquittal on a four-count indictment charging him with conspiracy to import cocaine, importation of cocaine, conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The government concedes that the charges in both prosecutions involve the same alleged importation conspiracy that was in existence from late March 1988 to April 21, 1988. However, the government contends that the Travel Act conviction is not barred by collateral estoppel, arguing that it did not attempt to relitigate any issue in the second trial that was necessarily decided in Garcia's favor in the first trial. For the reasons discussed below, we disagree and hold that Garcia's conviction is due to be reversed and rendered.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

Because error can be shown even accepting the government's statement of the facts, we will take that statement as true for purposes of this appeal and quote liberally from it.

A. The Facts Established at the First Trial

On May 31, 1989, the government charged Garcia and seven co-defendants with conspiracy to import cocaine, importation of cocaine, conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The indictment alleged the conspiracy existed "from in or about late March, 1988 to on or about April 21, 1988." The case proceeded to trial against Garcia and three co-defendants.*fn1

The government summarizes the evidence against Garcia in the first trial as follows:

The evidence presented ... showed a scheme involving several co-defendants to import approximately 975 pounds of cocaine with a wholesale value in excess of $6 million from Mexico into the Florida Keys. The co-conspirators used a 50-foot vessel named the Sea Lark which was specially fitted with a hidden compartment in a cabinet beneath the steering wheel.

With co-defendant Manuel Fiallo as captain and a crew consisting of co-defendants Ricardo Gaetano and Pedro Martinez, the Sea Lark traveled from Key Largo, Florida, to Progresso, Mexico, where it cleared Customs. From there, the Sea Lark headed to Carmen Island, off the coast of Mexico, where approximately 400 duffel bags filled with cocaine were loaded. Once the cocaine had been secreted aboard the Sea Lark, it headed back to South Florida.

The vessel developed engine problems on the return voyage. Co-defendant Antonio Gonzalez contacted a boat mechanic, co-defendant Hector Cabrera, and requested that he perform repairs on the Sea Lark at sea. Cabrera agreed; [on or about April 17, 1988,] he left Key Largo aboard a 35-foot sportfisherman and met the Sea Lark at the Alacran Reef where he successfully repaired its engines.

Because of his concern that the engines of the Sea Lark might develop additional problems, Fiallo requested that Cabrera remain close to the Sea Lark for the remainder [of] the trip to Key Largo. During the ensuing journey the Coast Guard stopped and searched both boats; the Coast Guard boarding party did not locate the cocaine that was secreted on the Sea Lark.

When the Sea Lark developed additional engine troubles and it was determined that Cabrera's sportfisherman was unable to tow it, a third vessel, the Miss Heineken, was dispatched from Key Largo to provide assistance. Ultimately, all three boats returned safely to Key Largo. Acting on an anonymous tip, Customs officials conducted an extensive search of the Sea Lark which ultimately revealed 450 packages of cocaine weighing about 975 pounds ...


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