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United States of America v. MIKEL LEVI TUCSON
Case Number: 07-1059
Judge: Neil M. Gorsuch
Court: UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office
Denver, CO - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with three counts of possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute it and one count of possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute charges.
In April 2006, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Tucson on four counts of
possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). Three of the counts involved cocaine, while the
fourth involved methamphetamine. In November 2006, at the conclusion of a
four day trial, a jury convicted Mr. Tucson on all four counts. At trial, two
Southern Ute Tribal Police officers and a federal Bureau of Indian Affairs agent
testified that on four separate occasions a confidential informant named Salvador
Lucero purchased drugs from Mr. Tucson. The officers monitored these
transactions with visual and audio surveillance, but did not actually see the drugs
change hands. The officers further testified that they searched Mr. Lucero both
before and after the transactions with Mr. Tucson. Mr. Lucero went into the
meetings with money and returned with drugs on each of the four occasions. Mr.
Lucero did not testify, and the defense did not call any witnesses.
During closing arguments, defense counsel emphasized that Mr. Lucero was
the only eyewitness, and that the prosecution had not called him as a witness. In
response, the prosecutor pointed out to the jury that defense counsel had
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extensively cross-examined the police officers about Mr. Lucero’s personal life
and criminal record. The prosecutor further told the jury that the defense could
have called Mr. Lucero as a witness if it had wished. Defense counsel objected to
this statement and moved for a mistrial. The district court sustained the
objection, issued a curative instruction reminding the jury that the government
had the burden of proof, but denied the motion for a mistrial. The jury
subsequently returned guilty verdicts on all four counts. The district court
sentenced Mr. Tucson to four concurrent 27 month terms of imprisonment. This
sentence was at the bottom of the applicable range of the United States
* * *
Pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Anders v. California, a courtappointed defense counsel may “request permission to withdraw [from an appeal]
where counsel conscientiously examines a case and determines that any appeal
would be wholly frivolous.” United States v. Calderon, 428 F.3d 928, 930 (10th
Cir. 2005) (citing Anders, 386 U.S. at 744). This process requires counsel to
submit a brief to the client and the appellate court indicating any
potential appealable issues based on the record. The client may then
choose to submit arguments to the court. The [c]ourt must then conduct
a full examination of the record to determine whether defendant’s
claims are wholly frivolous. If the court concludes after such an
examination that the appeal is frivolous, it may grant counsel’s motion
to withdraw and may dismiss the appeal.
Id. (citing Anders, 386 U.S. at 744).
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In her Anders brief, counsel noted two possible issues for appeal: 1) the
alleged prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments, and 2) a challenge to
the sufficiency of the evidence. Counsel concluded that neither issue was
meritorious, and Mr. Tucson did not exercise his right to file a response. After
conducting a full examination of the record, we agree with counsel’s conclusion
that no basis in law or fact exists for either of these arguments.
“Although a prosecutor may not comment on a defendant’s decision to
refrain from testifying, he is otherwise free to comment on a defendant’s failure
to call certain witnesses or present certain testimony.” Trice v. Ward, 196 F.3d
1151, 1167 (10th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted); see also Battenfield v. Gibson, 236
F.3d 1215, 1225 (10th Cir. 2001); United States v. McIntyre, 997 F.2d 687, 707
(10th Cir. 1993). The record is clear that in this case the prosecutor was
commenting on the defense’s decision not to call Mr. Lucero as a witness. In
rebutting defense counsel’s “missing witness” argument, the prosecutor stated:
[Defense counsel] has no burden at all in a criminal case. The
government has the burden of proof. He can just sit there . . . and not
call a single witness, and that’s fine. And we embrace that as one of the
constitutional guarantees of our country.
But he didn’t tell you that he has the same subpoena power the
government has. That if you wanted to find Mr. Lucero and bring him
in, he could have.
Trial Tr., Nov. 8, 2006, at 189-90.
The prosecutor clearly indicated that the government bore the burden of
proof. His comments were limited to pointing out to the jury that the defense had
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the ability to call Mr. Lucero as a witness if it had wished to do so. Under our
case law, such comments are not improper. We are thus constrained to agree with
counsel that an appeal on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct would be
We also agree with counsel that any appeal based on the sufficiency of the
evidence would be frivolous. The jury heard testimony that on four separate
occasions Mr. Tucson met with Mr. Lucero; that prior to the meetings Mr. Lucero
was searched to be certain he did not have drugs on him; that Mr. Lucero was
given money to buy drugs; and that Mr. Lucero returned from all four encounters
without the money and with substances that contained a detectable amount of
either cocaine or methamphetamine. This evidence, when viewed in the light
most favorable to the government, was sufficient for a rational jury to find Mr.
Tucson guilty. See United States v. Torres-Laranega, 476 F.3d 1148, 1157 (10th
Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, we grant counsel’s motion to withdraw and
dismiss the appeal.