Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Estrada: Upholding Convictions for Smuggling Cuban Baseball Players

 In United States v. Estrada, No. 17-15405 (Aug. 13, 2020) (Jill Pryor, Rosenbaum, Branch), the Court affirmed the defendants' convictions for smuggling baseball players out of Cuba into the United States.

 First, the Court rejected as foreclosed by prior precedent the defendants' arguments that the Cuban Adjustment Act and Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy established “prior official authorization” for the players to enter the US.  The Court also rejected the argument that 1324(a)(2)’s “prior official authorization” component was unconstitutionally vague.

 Second, the Court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendants' convictions for both aiding and abetting alien smuggling and conspiracy to commit alien smuggling.

Third, the Court found no abuse of discretion in five evidentiary rulings.  Two witnesses were permitted to give lay (as opposed to expert) testimony about government unblocking licenses and visas.  The court did not improperly limit the defendants’ ability to cross examine those two government witnesses about whether they acted in good faith to comply with government regulations.  The court properly admitted evidence of uncharged violence and extortion because it was intrinsic evidence necessary to complete the story of the crimes.  The court properly admitted hearsay under the co-conspirator exception.  Finally, the court did not err by refusing to strike a government witness’ testimony because the court allowed the defendant to  put on evidence showing that the witness had lied, and his credibility was a matter for the jury.