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9th Circuit Court: Insufficient Evidence to Support Firearm Conviction

United States v. Mendoza Docket: 19-50092, Opinion Date: February 8, 2022. At age 15, Mendoza joined the Canta Ranas Organization (CRO), a Californian gang known for violent extortion and drug distribution. The government alleged that Mendoza continued as an active gang member until 2016, when he was arrested during federal law enforcement’s takedown of the CRO, citing incidents in 2013 and 2016 when police caught Mendoza with a handgun and methamphetamine and text message conversations in which Mendoza asked CRO members for methamphetamine. Mendoza admitted to methamphetamine addiction but denied continued CRO membership, claiming that the methamphetamine with which he was found was for his own consumption. The Ninth Circuit vacated his convictions for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 846; RICO conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), and carrying a firearm “during and in relation to” or “in furtherance of” a crime of violence or drug-trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A). Even making all reasonable inferences in the prosecution’s favor, the government did not establish the “prolonged and actively pursued course of drug sales” for which the court looks when deciding, absent direct evidence of an agreement, whether there is sufficient evidence of an agreement to distribute drugs. No reasonable jury could determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Mendoza was part of a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Because the RICO conspiracy case turned on the same evidence, there is likewise insufficient evidence to support that conviction. Mendoza’s firearm conviction is unsupported by sufficient evidence. #firearmconviction #insufficientevidence

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