Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lopez: "Help" Instruction ok in Alien Smuggling case

In U.S. v. Lopez, No. 08-13605 (Dec. 22, 2009) (2-1) (Barkett, J., dissenting in part), the Court affirmed convictions for encouraging or inducing aliens to enter the United States, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(I ) and § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv).

During deliberations, the jury asked what “encourage” meant. Over defense objection, the district court instructed that encourage means, inter alia, “to help.” Affirming this instruction, the Court noted that dictionary definitions of “encourage” included “help.” The Court rejected the argument that this interpretation would render other portions of § 1324 superfluous, because they criminalized bringing an alien into the United States, an offense which would be redundant if helping an alien enter the United States was already a crime. The Court noted that the different subsections of the statute contained different elements, with one referencing bringing an alien “at a place other than a designated port of entry,” and another refers only to the mere act of bringing an alien to the United States.

The Court rejected the argument that the supplemental jury instruction violated Fed. R. Crim. P. 30 by contradicting an earlier jury instruction. The Court noted the discretion of district courts to expand upon initial jury instructions when a jury question arises.

Finally, the Court rejected the argument that the alien smuggling statute requires a showing that the defendant knew that an alien was inadmissible at the time he boarded the boat. The Court found no such requirement in the statute.