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United States v. Mendoza – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

United States v. Mendoza, 530 F.3d 758 (9th Cir. 2008), involved an IRS investigation of the defendant for underreporting his income.

The IRS attempted to serve the defendant via his attorney with a grand jury subpoena for handprint and fingerprint exemplars, but the attorney no longer represented him. Id. at 761.

An IRS agent then called the defendant's wife, who relayed that the defendant moved to the Philippines and provided contact information for his family there. Id.

The IRS had two successful communications via phone with the defendant while he was in the Philippines. Id. Thereafter, the defendant was indicted, and his warrant was entered into the law enforcement database. Id. at 762.

However, by the time the defendant returned to the United States, and was arrested relatively soon thereafter, eight years had passed since the indictment was filed. Id.

The district court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds, and the defendant was ultimately convicted. Id.

On appeal before the Ninth Circuit, the court held that "the government has 'some obligation' to pursue a defendant and bring him to trial." Id. at 762-63 (citing United States v. Sandoval, 990 F.2d 481, 485 (9th Cir. 1993)).

Although "the government is not required 'to make heroic efforts to apprehend a defendant who is purposefully avoiding apprehension,'" the court explained, the government must make a "serious effort" to find the defendant if the defendant is not avoiding detection or else the government will be considered negligent. Id. at 763.

The court concluded that despite having the defendant's relatives' and spouse's contact information, the IRS agent made no effort to notify the defendant of the indictment and noted that there was no evidence that the defendant was keeping his whereabouts unknown. Id.

The record was "silent as to any efforts by the government to apprehend the defendant beyond merely entering the defendant's warrant in the law enforcement database." Id. at 764.

"The government was required to make some effort to notify the defendant of the indictment, or otherwise continue to actively attempt to bring him to trial, or else risk that the defendant would remain abroad while the constitutional speedy-trial clock ticked." Id. at 763.

Accordingly, the court determined that the government's negligence caused the delay, thereby weighing the "reason for delay" factor against the State. Id.

The court ultimately remanded and ordered that the defendant's indictment be dismissed. Id. at 765.