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United States v. Saldana-Rivera

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JOEL SALDAÑA-RIVERA, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí, Jr., U.S. District Judge]

          Jessica E. Earl, Assistant Federal Public Defender, with whom Eric Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, Vivianne M. Marrero, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Supervisor, Appeals Section, and Franco L. Pérez-Redondo, Research and Writing Specialist, were on brief, for appellant.

          Francisco A. Besosa-Martínez, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Thompson, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

         In March 2017, a jury convicted Joel Saldaña-Rivera ("Saldaña") under 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b) of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity for which Saldaña could be charged with sexual assault under the laws of Puerto Rico. Saldaña appeals his conviction, arguing that he could not have been charged with sexual assault under Puerto Rico law because the person he tried to entice was an adult federal agent posing as a minor. Saldaña also challenges the jury instructions regarding the government's burden of proof. For the following reasons, we affirm Saldaña's conviction.

         I.

         In February 2016, Saldaña, an adult using the moniker "Irresistible," engaged in an online conversation with an undercover Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") agent. The agent, using the moniker "JessiRiv," told Saldaña he was an eleven-year-old girl. The conversation began in an online chatroom before moving to Kik Messenger, a messaging application for mobile devices that provides some degree of anonymity to users.

         During the conversation, Saldaña sent photographs of himself to "JessiRiv" and asked her to send photographs back. Saldaña also asked "JessiRiv" where her father was and what she was wearing. During the course of their conversation, Saldaña agreed to meet "JessiRiv" in person with the understanding that they would go to her parents' house, have sex, and watch pornography.

         When Saldaña arrived at the location where he thought he would be meeting an eleven-year-old "JessiRiv," he instead met the DHS agent and other law enforcement officials. After being Mirandized and arrested, Saldaña told the officials that he believed he had been communicating with an eleven-year-old girl and that he had gone to the meeting location with the intent to have sex with her.

         Saldaña was indicted with one count of attempted sexual coercion and enticement of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). He initially pleaded guilty before a magistrate judge, but he withdrew his guilty plea before the district court accepted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. After he moved unsuccessfully to dismiss the indictment, the case went to trial "solely," in Saldaña's words, "to preserve the legal ruling for appellate review."

         At trial, the undercover DHS agent, another DHS agent, and a Puerto Rico Police Department officer testified. The government also presented screenshots of the conversations between Saldaña and "JessiRiv." As Saldaña acknowledges, "the evidence and testimony of the witnesses went largely uncontested." At the end of the government's case, Saldaña moved under Rule 29 for a judgment of acquittal, which the district court denied. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29.

         The jury found Saldaña guilty of violating section 2422(b). The district court sentenced Saldaña to 120 months' imprisonment, the statutory minimum, to be followed by ...


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