Thursday, August 19, 2010

U.S. v. Agosto-Vega

Aug 18: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 09-1158 & 09-1159. This is a consolidated appeal from a jury verdict which found Appellants Braulio Agosto-Vega (Agosto) and Braulio Agosto Motors, Inc. (Agosto Motors) guilty of violating criminal provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The principal issue presented is whether Appellants were deprived of their constitutional right to a public trial pursuant to the Sixth Amendment. The Appeals Court found that the District Court committed a structural error by excluding the public from the courtroom during the selection of the jury.
    The Appeals Court cited Presley v. Georgia, S. Ct. 721 (Jan. 19, 2010) and said, "We are thus required to vacate Appellants' convictions and remand their cases for a new trial. Nevertheless, considering that Appellants will have a new trial on the same charges, to prevent an allegation that they will be subjected to double jeopardy in violation of the Fifth Amendment by reason of this retrial, it is incumbent upon us to address Appellants' contentions that the government failed to present sufficient evidence at the first trial to allow the jury to conclude that they were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charges presented against them. . . We conclude that the government proved the charges against Appellants by sufficient evidence to establish their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
    In Count One of the indictment charged Agosto with conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States. The CWA prohibits the "discharge of any pollutant" without a permit pursuant to the National Pollutant Discharge System. The knowing violation of this prohibition is a felony and CWA defines the discharge of a pollutant as "any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source," discharged into water. The term "navigable waters" is defined as "waters of the United States, including the territorial seas." The Appeals Court said, "Using either Justice Kennedy's or the plurality's test in Rapanos, the government presented sufficient evidence from which the jury could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, the required jurisdictional nexus. Agosto's guilt was established as to Count One.

    Access the complete opinion (click here).