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United States v. Santos

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 9, 2020

JUSTO JONAH SANTOS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, D.C. Docket No. 1:15-cr-20865-KMM-1

          Before ROSENBAUM, TJOFLAT and HULL, Circuit Judges.


         After a jury trial, Justo Jonah Santos appeals his convictions for procuring naturalization unlawfully, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a), and misuse of evidence of an unlawfully issued certificate of naturalization, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1423. On appeal, Santos challenges some of the district court's evidentiary rulings and also argues that the trial evidence was insufficient to support his § 1425(a) conviction. After review and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm.


         A. Santos's 2007 Application for Naturalization

         A native of the Dominican Republic, defendant Santos became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in 1982, when he was 12 years old. On July 27, 2007, Santos, then age 37, applied for naturalization.

         To that end, Santos completed a N-400 Application for Naturalization (hereinafter "Form N-400 Application" or "Application"), which is a standard form that all individuals must submit to the government to become a naturalized citizen. In a section titled "Good Moral Character," Santos certified under penalty of perjury that he had never been arrested for any reason (Question 16), had never been charged with committing a crime (Question 17), had never been convicted of a crime (Question 18), and had never been in jail or prison (Question 21). Santos did not provide any information in the section asking for more details about his prior criminal history, including the "City, State, Country" of any arrest or charge

         The Application also required Santos to report the amount of time he spent outside the United States since becoming a lawful permanent resident in 1982, specifically, any trips that lasted longer than 24 hours. In response, Santos listed these six trips to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua: (1) an 11-day trip to the Dominican Republic in July 2003; (2) a 2-day trip to the Dominican Republic in November 2003; (3) an 11-day trip to Nicaragua in 2004; (4) a 3-day trip to the Dominican Republic in September 2007; (5) a 3-day trip to the Dominican Republic in April 2007; and (6) a 15-day trip to Nicaragua in June 2007. Notably, Santos did not report taking any trips before 2003. Santos also did not disclose that he had previously used any other names or aliases. Santos signed his Form N-400 Application directly below a certification that its contents were true and correct.

         B. Santos's 2009 Interview and Re-signing of Form N-400 Application

         On January 26, 2009, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") Officer Lucas Barrios interviewed Santos. During the interview, Officer Barrios annotated in red ink Santos's Application with handwritten checkmarks and comments, which included clarifications and corrections to Santos's answers. Officer Barrios checked in red ink each of Santos's answers regarding his criminal history and wrote "claims no arrest[, ] no offense[, ] no DUI" under Santos's answers. Officer Barrios also checked in red ink each of Santos's answers regarding his history of trips outside the United States and wrote "claims no other" below the list of trips. Using red ink, Officer Barrios numbered his corrections to the application 1 through 8 and then signed the Application.

         At the end of the interview, Santos again swore and certified under penalty of perjury that the contents of the Application, including Officer Barrios's eight corrections, were true and correct. Santos again signed the Application in black ink, this time below that second certification.

         After the interview, Officer Barrios approved Santos's Application, and Santos became a naturalized citizen in February 2009. In March 2009, Santos used his certificate of naturalization to obtain a U.S. passport.

         During the naturalization process, however, Santos failed to disclose in his Application and interview: (1) that he had a prior conviction for voluntarily killing a person, (2) that he had traveled to the Dominican Republic in 1986 and stayed there for over two years, and (3) that he used an alias name while in the Dominican Republic. Specifically, in November 1986, Santos was involved in killing another Dominican national named Jose Martinez Tavarez in New York City. Soon thereafter, in December 1986, Santos left the United States and returned to the Dominican Republic. In February 1988, Dominican police arrested Santos for Martinez's death. At the time he was arrested, Santos was carrying a false identification document in the name of "Junior de Jesus Abinader." Santos then spent one year in a Dominican prison and was eventually found guilty of voluntarily killing Martinez, in violation of "Articles 295-321," and 326 of the Dominican penal code. In March 1989, Santos was released from prison and, in April 1989, he returned to the United States.

         C. Santos's December 2015 Statement

         After investigating Santos's criminal records in the Dominican Republic and his travel history with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security arrested Santos on December 16, 2015 on the immigration-related charges in this case. On the day of his arrest, Santos provided a sworn post-Miranda statement to Special Agent Mildred Laboy. Special Agent Laboy documented Santos's answers to her questions on a handwritten form entitled "Record of Sworn Statement in Affidavit Form." The statement read, in part:

Q. What is your true and complete name?
A. Justo Jonah Santos Abinader
Q. What is your date and place of birth?
A. [redacted month and day] 1970 Santiago, Dominican Republic
Q. Have you ever been arrested any where [sic] in the world?
A. Yes.
Q. When and why were you arrested?
A. 1987 arrested for murder in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Q. Where [sic] you convicted of murder?
A. Yes manslaughter and was given time served - a little over one year
Q. Have you ever been arrested other than 1987[?]
A. No
Q. When did you become a U.S. citizen?
A. 2009
Q. On your Application for Naturalization form N400, page 8 Section D #15, Have you ever committed a crime or offense for which you were not arrested and #16, Have you ever been arrested, cited or detained by any law enforcement officer (including USCIS or former INS and military officers) for any reason?
A. When I completed my naturalization application, I was under the mind set [sic] that the question in the application related to the U.S. Now that you have explained the Questions-I understand and I should have placed a yes on Questions [sic] #16.
Q. What about Question #17, where it states Have you ever been charged with committing any crime or offense?
A. Yes, I understand today, I should have said yes to Question 17.
Q. Question #18 on your naturalization, is Have you ever been convicted of a crime or offense?
A. I should have said yes to Question #18 because I was given time served for the charge. I don't want to continue any more questions.

         At the end of the 2015 interview, Santos refused to sign the statement.

         D. Indictment and First Jury Trial

         In May 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Santos on one count of procuring citizenship or naturalization unlawfully, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a) (Count One), and one count of misusing evidence of citizenship or naturalization, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1423 (Count Two). Santos was tried twice.

         Prior to Santos's first trial, the government filed a motion in limine about Santos's post-Miranda statement to Special Agent Laboy. The government planned to elicit testimony from Special Agent Laboy that Santos admitted he was arrested for murder and convicted of manslaughter in the Dominican Republic in 1987, and that he served over one year in prison. But the government sought to prevent Santos from eliciting testimony about the rest of Santos's statement to Special Agent Laboy. Santos had said as follows: when he completed the Application, he thought the questions about his criminal history related only to the United States, but that after Special Agent Laboy explained the questions to him, he understood that he should have answered yes to those questions.

         Santos opposed the motion, arguing that the government was seeking to admit the incriminating portions and exclude the exculpatory portions of his post-Miranda statement. Santos contended that the rest of his statement should be admitted under, inter alia, Federal Rules of Evidence 106 and 611(a) and the rule of completeness because both portions pertained to the issue of whether Santos acted knowingly.

         After hearing arguments, the district court granted the government's motion in limine, concluding, inter alia, that the exculpatory portion of Santos's statement was not necessary to clarify or explain the inculpatory portion.

         After a five-day trial, a jury convicted Santos of both counts. The district court imposed a total 15-month prison sentence, followed by two years of supervised release. The district court also revoked Santos's citizenship.

         E. First ...

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