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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Valenzuela-Bernal, 458 U.S. 858 (1982)

United States v. Valenzuela-Bernal

No. 81-450

Argued April 20, 1982

Decided July 2, 1982

458 U.S. 858


Respondent was indicted in Federal District Court for transporting one Romero-Morales in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(2), which prohibits the knowing transportation of an alien illegally in the United States who last entered the country within three years prior to the date of the transportation. Two other illegal aliens -- who, with Romero-Morales, were passengers in the car being driven by respondent and were apprehended with respondent -- were deported after an Assistant United States Attorney concluded that they possessed no evidence material to respondent's prosecution. Romero-Morales was detained to provide a nonhearsay basis for establishing that respondent had violated § 1324(a)(2). The District Court denied respondent's motion to dismiss the indictment on the asserted ground that the deportation of the other passengers deprived him of the opportunity to interview them to determine whether they could aid in his defense, and thus violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process for obtaining witnesses. Following a bench trial, respondent was convicted, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although a constitutional violation occurs only when "the alien's testimony could conceivably benefit the defendant," the "conceivable benefit" test was satisfied -- without requiring the defendant to explain what beneficial evidence would have been provided by the alien -- whenever, as here, the deported alien was an eyewitness to the crime.

Held: Respondent failed to establish a violation of the Fifth or Sixth Amendment. Pp. 458 U. S. 863-874.

(a) In cases like this, the Executive Branch's responsibility faithfully to execute Congress' immigration policy of prompt deportation of illegal aliens justifies deportation of illegal alien witnesses upon the Executive's good faith determination that they possess no evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal prosecution. In addition to satisfying such policy, the prompt deportation of such witnesses is justified by practical considerations, including the financial and physical burdens imposed upon the Government in detaining alien eyewitnesses. Pp. 458 U. S. 863-866.

(b) Respondent cannot establish a violation of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a criminal defendant the right to compulsory process

Page 458 U. S. 859

for obtaining witnesses "in his favor," merely by showing that deportation of the aliens deprived him of their testimony. He must at least make some plausible showing of how their testimony would have been both material and favorable to his defense. Cf. Washington v. Texas, 388 U. S. 14. While a relaxation of the specificity required in showing materiality may be supported by the fact that, because the witnesses were deported, neither respondent nor his attorney had an opportunity to interview the witnesses to determine what favorable information they possessed, this does not afford a basis for wholly dispensing with a showing of materiality. Cf. Roviaro v. United States, 353 U. S. 53. Moreover, respondent was present throughout the commission of the crime, and no one knew better than he what the deported witnesses said in his presence that might bear upon whether he knew that Romero-Morales was an illegal alien who had entered the country within the past three years. Pp. 458 U. S. 867-871.

(c) At least the same materiality requirement obtains with respect to a due process claim. In order to establish a denial of due process, the acts complained of must be of such quality as necessarily prevents a fair trial. Such an absence of fairness is not made out by the Government's deportation of the witnesses here unless there is some explanation of how their testimony would have been favorable and material. P. 458 U. S. 872.

(d) Sanctions against the Government are warranted for deportation of alien witnesses only if there is a reasonable likelihood that the testimony could have affected the judgment of the trier of fact. In this case, respondent made no effort to explain what material, favorable evidence the deported aliens would have provided for his defense. Pp. 458 U. S. 872-974.

647 F.2d 72, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 458 U. S. 874, and O'CONNOR, J., post, p. 458 U. S. 875, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 879.

Page 458 U. S. 860

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