Drug offences

Offences

• Importation/exportation

Substances Involved

• Cocaine

United States v Blanco

UNODC No.:
USAx083

Fact Summary

On April 30, 1975, an indictment charging appellant Griselda Blanco and 37 others was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and the case was assigned to Judge John Cannella. The indictment charged the defendants with conspiring to manufacture, import into the United States, and distribute cocaine. By January 1976, twelve of the conspirators had been prosecuted and convicted, and two others had pleaded guilty.

When the indictment was returned in April, 1975, Blanco, a Colombian citizen, was living in Colombia. In May, 1975, the district court issued a warrant for her arrest.

At trial, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Carmen Caban, a former drug dealer turned government witness. Caban testified at length about the operations between 1972 and 1975 of the cocaine importing ring in which Blanco allegedly participated.

To corroborate Caban's testimony about the existence of a drug importing conspiracy, the prosecution presented evidence of arrests of drug couriers, seizures of drugs, and conversations between suspected drug dealers which occurred between 1972 and 1975. For example, the prosecution introduced evidence of the 1972 arrest of one Antonio Romero, who was apprehended at Kennedy Airport trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States by concealing it in a dog cage.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty on one count of conspiracy to manufacture, import into the United States, and distribute cocaine. Two days later, the court sentenced Blanco to fifteen years in prison and fined her $25,000.

Commentary and Significant Features

The right to a speedy trial is discussed at length using the Barker factors (Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972). More detail to be found under Proceedings description.

Cross Cutting

Liability

... for

• completed offence

... based on

• criminal intention

... as involves

• principal offender(s)

Application of the Convention

Details

• occurred across one (or more) international borders (transnationally)

Involved Countries

Colombia

United States of America

Investigation

Involved Agencies

• Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Details

• Special investigative techniques
• undercover operation(s)

• Gender Dimension

Procedural Information

Legal System:
Common Law
Latest Court Ruling:
Appellate Court
Type of Proceeding:
Criminal
 

On April 30, 1975, an indictment charging appellant Griselda Blanco and 37 others was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and the case was assigned to Judge John Cannella. The indictment charged the defendants with conspiring to manufacture, import into the United States, and distribute cocaine. By January 1976, twelve of the conspirators had been prosecuted and convicted, and two others had pleaded guilty.

When the indictment was returned in April, 1975, Blanco, a Colombian citizen, was living in Colombia. In May, 1975, the district court issued a warrant for her arrest. That year, Charles Cecil, a special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"), began investigating Blanco's whereabouts. By 1977, Cecil had learned of her address in Colombia through an informant and he took several measures to keep track of Blanco's whereabouts and to discover whether she entered the United States.

After intensifying its surveillance and investigation of her, the DEA finally arrested Blanco in Irvine, California, on February 17, 1985. Blanco gave a false name to the DEA agents who arrested her and she was found to be carrying false identification papers.

Blanco's jury trial before Judge Cannella commenced on June 25, 1985 and ended July 9, 1985. At trial, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Carmen Caban, a former drug dealer turned government witness. Caban testified at length about the operations between 1972 and 1975 of the cocaine importing ring in which Blanco allegedly participated. On cross-examination of Caban, Blanco's defense counsel inquired about Caban's cooperation agreement with the government, about a grant of immunity for Caban's past crimes, about the government's assistance in vacating a state conviction of Caban, and about financial help the government gave her. Counsel also inquired about Caban's extensive career as a drug dealer and her many past acts of lying, stealing, and defrauding. However, Judge Cannella prevented defense counsel from asking Caban about her alleged participation in a murder, ruling that the prejudice caused by testimony about this matter would far outweigh its probative value. The district judge also prevented Blanco's counsel from cross-examining another government witness, Gloria Caban, Carmen's sister, about her alleged participation in the same murder.

The trial judge allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence that at the time of her arrest Blanco was carrying false identification papers and that she gave the arresting officers a false name. Judge Cannella instructed the jury that this evidence need not necessarily show consciousness of guilt and he suggested to the jury reasons why an innocent person might conceal her identity. In his charge to the jury, the judge told the jury that it had the responsibility of deciding whether Blanco's concealment of her identity indicated consciousness of guilt.

To corroborate Caban's testimony about the existence of a drug importing conspiracy, the prosecution presented evidence of arrests of drug couriers, seizures of drugs, and conversations between suspected drug dealers which occurred between 1972 and 1975. For example, the prosecution introduced evidence of the 1972 arrest of one Antonio Romero, who was apprehended at Kennedy Airport trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States by concealing it in a dog cage. In his charge to the jury, Judge Cannella explained that to find Blanco guilty of conspiracy the jury had to find four elements: an agreement, an overt act, a violation of law, and Blanco's knowing participation. He told the jury:

It may be that you don't find there is any conspiracy at all, or that there is [sic] a number of conspiracies rather than one conspiracy, because the government must prove here there is one conspiracy, namely, that the drugs were gotten in Columbia [sic], brought in through Miami, or other places, and then brought to New York. That is the conspiracy that is charged, and that is the conspiracy they must prove, a single conspiracy....

The jury returned a verdict of guilty on one count of conspiracy to manufacture, import into the United States, and distribute cocaine. Following Blanco's conviction, the district court held a hearing on Blanco's motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that she had been denied a speedy trial. The district court denied this motion on November 6, 1985, finding that the delay was of Blanco's own making. Two days later, the court sentenced Blanco to fifteen years in prison and fined her $25,000. Blanco appealed. On December 23, 1985, this court remanded the case for a new hearing on the speedy trial issue, following the unsealing of the government's ex parte affidavits relating to the DEA's 1984 investigation in California of Blanco's sons. On January 26, 1988, the district court again denied Blanco's motion to dismiss the indictment, holding that the government's delay in arresting Blanco in California was justified. This appeal followed.

 
 
Proceeding #1:
  • Stage:
    appeal
  • Is the decision appealable?:
    No
  • Official Case Reference:
    No. 1187, Docket 85-1423
  • Court

    • Criminal
    Description:

    Blanco argues that the government violated her right to a speedy trial under the sixth amendment, under Fed.R.Crim.P. 48(b), and under this Circuit's former rules on the prompt disposition of criminal cases and that, consequently, the indictment should be dismissed. Alternatively, Blanco argues that she was denied a fair trial because of Judge Cannella's evidentiary rulings and she seeks a reversal of her conviction and a new trial.

    Under the sixth amendment, all criminal defendants have a right to a speedy trial. In Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), the Supreme Court identified the four familiar factors that must be considered to determine whether a defendant's right to a speedy trial has been violated: (1) the length of the delay between the defendant's indictment and trial, (2) the reason for the delay, (3) when the defendant asserted the right, and (4) the prejudice defendant suffered due to the delay. Id. at 530, 92 S.Ct. at 2192.

    A long delay between indictment and trial is presumptively prejudicial to the defendant and triggers an inquiry into the other three Barker factors. The period between Blanco's indictment on April 3, 1975 and the beginning of her trial on June 25, 1985 exceeded ten years. Such a long delay is presumptively prejudicial and thus triggers an inquiry into the other three factors.

    The crux of this case turns on the reason for the delay. A defendant's claim that the government violated her right to a speedy trial is seriously undermined when the defendant, and not the government, is the cause of the delay. An analysis of the events which transpired herein reveals that Blanco must bear the responsibility for the lengthy delay between her indictment and trial.

    It is clear that the government has a constitutional duty to make a diligent, good faith effort to bring a defendant to trial promptly. The court concludes that the government fulfilled that duty in this case. Before 1984, when Blanco was living in Colombia, the government met its duty of due diligence by having its agent, Charles Cecil, investigate Blanco's whereabouts and attempt to keep track of her through an informant. The government also made considerable efforts from the time a warrant was issued for her arrest in 1974 until the time she was spotted in California in 1984 to detect whether Blanco had entered the United States. The fugitive report on Blanco filed with the National Criminal Information System and the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, the passport and visa "lookouts" filed by the DEA for someone of her name and description, the search for her in Miami hospitals in 1977, and the search for her body in 1980 are all examples of the government having mounted diligent efforts to meet its constitutional responsibility.

    The government had no duty to request the extradition of Blanco from Colombia, either before or after the new United States-Colombia extradition treaty took effect in 1982. Due diligence does not require the government to pursue goals that are futile. Before 1982, the existing United States-Colombia extradition treaty did not require Colombia to surrender its citizens under the treaty and the record evidence reveals that, in any event, the Colombian government had a policy of denying extradition requests involving its citizens. It seems clear that, before 1982, a request by the government for the extradition of Blanco would have been futile.

    Nor did the government's failure to request Blanco's extradition after 1982, when the new treaty requiring Colombia to surrender drug smugglers to the United States became effective, constitute a breach of the government's duty of due diligence since the President of Colombia had announced that he would not enforce the new treaty.

    Blanco argues that, apart from extradition, the government should have tried to either lure her from Colombia or seize her there. She argues that had she been seized in Colombia by U.S. agents she would have had no grounds to complain that the United States lacked jurisdiction over her, so long as Colombia consented to the seizure and she was not physically abused.

    The government did, in fact, propose that Blanco be lured from Colombia. DEA agent Cecil urged his informant to try to persuade Blanco to travel to Costa Rica, from whence she might have been extradited to the United States. Cecil also asked Blanco's lawyer to try to persuade Blanco to surrender. The government, however, had no duty to seize Blanco in Colombia. The United States has no right to enforce its laws in another country without that country's consent or acquiescence.

    While the government made diligent efforts to bring Blanco to trial, Blanco sought to avoid apprehension and prosecution.

    The third Barker factor to be considered is when the defendant asserted her right to a speedy trial. Since the bulk of the delay of which Blanco is complaining occurred between her indictment in 1975 and her arrest in 1985, and she only asserted her claim after her arrest, this factor does not help her case.

    The final Barker factor to be considered is prejudice to the defendant. Blanco claims, in her brief, that the long period of delay between her indictment and trial caused "great strains and disruptions" in her life and impaired her defense.

    Blanco's assertions of prejudice are not at all persuasive. We are not likely to be easily persuaded by the complaint of an appellant that she was prejudiced by delay when the appellant caused the delay. Moreover, Blanco's insistence, which failed to persuade the district court, that she did not know of the indictment undermines her assertion that the indictment put a strain on her life.

    The court concluded that Blanco was either absent or unavailable during the entire period before her arrest. Therefore, the government did not violate this Circuit's 1975 rules regarding the prompt disposition of criminal cases.

    Additionally, Blanco claims that her fifth amendment right to a fair trial was violated. First, she argues that Judge Cannella should have allowed her to cross-examine Carmen and Gloria Caban about their alleged participation in a murder. The judge's ruling excluding cross-examination on this matter did not deny Blanco a fair trial. The scope and extent of cross-examination lies within the discretion of the trial judge.

    For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court was affirmed.

     

    Outcome

  • Verdict:
    Guilty
  • Sentences

    Sentence

    Term of Imprisonment:
    15 years
     

    Fine

    Payment

  • Amount:
    25000
    Currency:
    USD
  • Amount ordinary in USD:
    10,000-50,000
  • Defendants / Respondents in the first instance

    Defendant:
    Griselda Blanco
    Gender:
    Female
    Nationality:
    Colombian
    Defence used:

    On cross-examination of Caban, Blanco's defense counsel inquired about Caban's cooperation agreement with the government, about a grant of immunity for Caban's past crimes, about the government's assistance in vacating a state conviction of Caban, and about financial help the government gave her. Counsel also inquired about Caban's extensive career as a drug dealer and her many past acts of lying, stealing, and defrauding. However, Judge Cannella prevented defense counsel from asking Caban about her alleged participation in a murder, ruling that the prejudice caused by testimony about this matter would far outweigh its probative value. The district judge also prevented Blanco's counsel from cross-examining another government witness, Gloria 777Caban, Carmen's sister, about her alleged participation in the same murder.

    On appeal, Blanco challenged her right to a speedy trial and the evidentiary issues involving Carmen Caban, a former drug dealer turned government witness.

    Court

    United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

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