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United States v. Corrales-Vazquez

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 24, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Oracio Corrales-Vazquez, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted June 12, 2019 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California Gonzalo P. Curiel, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:18-mj-03051-GPC-1

          Doug Keller (argued), Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc., San Diego, California, for Defendant-Appellant.

          D. Benjamin Holley (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Helen H. Hong, Chief, Appellate Division; Robert S. Brewer Jr., United States Attorney; United States Attorney's Office, San Diego, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Ferdinand F. Fernandez, Kim McLane Wardlaw, and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY [*]

         Criminal Law

         The panel reversed a misdemeanor conviction for eluding examination or inspection by immigration officers in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(2).

         The panel held that an alien who crosses into the country at a non-designated time or place is not guilty under § 1325(a)(2). Rather, to convict a defendant under § 1325(a)(2), the government must prove that the alien's criminal conduct occurred at a time and place designated for "examination or inspection by immigration officers"-i.e., at a port of entry open for inspection. Because the government failed to make that showing, the panel reversed the conviction.

         Concurring, Judge Bybee wrote separately to note his sympathy for the government's position, considering the difficulty caused by the court's jurisprudence regarding § 1325(a)(1), which makes it a crime for an alien to enter the United States outside an open port of entry.

         Dissenting, Judge Fernandez wrote that he would affirm because the elements of § 1325(a)(2) are that the accused was an alien and that he knowingly eluded examination or inspection by an immigration officer, and there is no requirement that the accused either eluded inspection at a port of entry, or, at least, eluded inspection by an immigration officer at the moment he entered the United States.

          OPINION

          BYBEE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Federal law makes it a crime for "[a]ny alien" to "enter[] or attempt[] to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers," 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(1), or to "elude[] examination or inspection by immigration officers," id. § 1325(a)(2). In this case, we consider whether an alien who crosses into the country at a non-designated time or place is guilty of "elud[ing] examination or inspection by immigration officers" under § 1325(a)(2). We hold that the answer is no. To convict a defendant under § 1325(a)(2), the government must prove that the alien's criminal conduct occurred at a time and place designated for "examination or inspection by immigration officers"-i.e., at a port of entry that is open for inspection. Because the government failed to make that showing in this case, we reverse.

         I

         Oracio Corrales-Vazquez is a native and citizen of Mexico who does not have authorization to enter the United States. In June 2018, he crossed into the United States from Mexico approximately 20 miles east of the port of entry at Tecate, California. Several hours after Corrales crossed into the country, a border patrol officer found him along with three other individuals hiding in some brush approximately four miles north of the international border. Corrales admitted to the officer that he was not authorized to be in the United States. He was arrested and charged with "elud[ing] examination or inspection by immigration officers," in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(2).

         The district court held a bench trial, during which Corrales argued that an alien eludes examination or inspection under § 1325(a)(2) only by crossing into the country at a port of entry, a fact that the government failed to prove in his case.[1] If an alien could violate § 1325(a)(2) by simply crossing into the United States without examination or inspection, Corrales argued, then § 1325(a)(1)-which specifically prohibits entering or attempting to enter the United States at a non-designated time or place-"would be superfluous."

         The district court disagreed with Corrales's interpretation of § 1325(a)(2), concluding that an alien "eludes examination or inspection" by crossing into the United States "without submitting to" an examination or inspection. After determining that Corrales crossed into the United States without undergoing an examination or inspection, the court found Corrales guilty of violating § 1325(a)(2) and sentenced him to time served. He now appeals his conviction.

         II

         On appeal, Corrales renews his argument that the government failed to adduce sufficient evidence to prove that he "elude[d] examination or inspection by immigration officers" in violation of § 1325(a)(2). "We review challenges to the sufficiency of evidence, including questions of statutory interpretation, de novo." United States v. Aldana, 878 F.3d 877, 880 (9th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 157 (2018).

         III

         Section 1325(a) provides in full:

Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under Title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under Title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

         Congress first enacted a version of this provision in 1952 as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Pub. L. No. 82-414, § 275, 66 Stat. 163, 229. But its origins date back much farther. Beginning in the early twentieth century, our immigration laws required deportation for certain aliens who entered the United States "at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officials, . . . or who enter[ed] without inspection." Immigration Act of 1917, Pub. L. No. 64-301, § 19, 39 Stat. 874, 889.[2] In 1929, Congress decided that aliens who "enter the United States surreptitiously" should be subject to not only deportation but also criminal penalties, H.R. Rep. No. 70-2418, at 7-8 (1929), and revised the prohibitions in the 1917 statute to be "broad enough to cover entry in any manner," id. at 4. The new criminal statute thus made it a misdemeanor for any alien to "enter[] the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officials or elude[] examination or inspection by immigration officials, or obtain[] entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact." Act of Mar. 4, 1929, Pub. L. No. 70-1018, § 2, 45 Stat. 1551, 1551 (codified at 8 U.S.C. § 180a (Supp. III 1929)). Congress replicated the 1929 statute's three substantive prohibitions with minimal alteration in 1952 in the INA, and in 1990 added liability for "attempt[ing] to enter" under § 1325(a)(1) and § 1325(a)(3). See Immigration Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-649, § 543(b)(2), 104 Stat. 4978, 5059.

         We are concerned here with what it means for an alien to "elude[] examination or inspection by immigration officers" under § 1325(a)(2).[3] In the government's view, any alien who crosses into the United States without examination or inspection necessarily "eludes examination or inspection," even if the alien crosses miles away from any place where those processes occur. Corrales, by contrast, contends that the conduct criminalized by § 1325(a)(2) can occur only at places and times designated for examination or inspection by immigration officers. Taking into account the statutory text and context, we reject the government's reading of § 1325(a)(2) and hold that the crime of "elud[ing] examination or inspection by immigration officers" can be committed only where and when examinations or inspections take place-at open ports of entry.

         A

         "We begin, as usual, with the statutory text." Maslenjak v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 1918, 1924 (2017). And because the relevant phrase-"eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers," 8 U.S.C. ยง 1325(a)(2)-"has remained unchanged" since it was first used in 1929, it "presumptively retains its original ...


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