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Guevara v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

October 10, 2013

Angela Leticia GUEVARA & Demecio Lopez, Appellants,
v.
UNITED STATES, Appellee.

Argued Feb. 28, 2013.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Katerina Semyonova, Public Defender Service with whom James Klein and Samia Fam, Public Defender Service were on the brief, for appellant Guevara.

Phillip C. Zane, Washington, DC, for appellant Lopez.

Uma M. Amuluru, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Elizabeth H. Danello, and Courtney Saleski, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for the appellee.

Before GLICKMAN and OBERLY, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

BELSON, Senior Judge:

This case presents two separate legal issues, both arising out of the abduction and stabbing of Silvano Lopez on June 5, 2010. Appellants Angela Guevara and Demecio Lopez were indicted on eight charges arising out of that incident. Following an eleven-day jury trial, Demecio Lopez was convicted of conspiracy,[1] kidnapping while armed,[2] aggravated assault while armed,[3] mayhem while armed,[4] assault with a dangerous weapon, [5] and threatening to injure or kidnap Silvano Lopez.[6] Angela Guevara was also convicted, but only of the charge of threatening to injure or kidnap Silvano Lopez.[7] We will consider first Angela Guevara's argument that the trial court violated her Sixth

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Amendment right to a unanimous verdict by not giving the jury a special unanimity instruction. She contends that such an instruction was necessary because the government presented evidence of three distinct threats occurring over the course of the abduction, any of which could have served as the basis for her conviction. We will consider second Demecio Lopez's argument that translation issues during the government's case-in-chief so affected the accuracy and clarity of the testimony that he was denied his right to a fair trial. Neither Demecio Lopez nor Angela Guevara preserved their arguments by objecting at trial. Accordingly, because we conclude that the trial court did not commit plain error, either in failing to give a special unanimity instruction or in its handling of the translation issues, we affirm.

I.

The government's account of the abduction at trial came almost entirely from the testimony of the victim, Silvano Lopez. According to his testimony, the relevant events unfolded as follows:

Silvano Lopez is appellant Demecio Lopez's ex-brother-in-law, and appellant Angela Guevara is Demecio Lopez's wife. Silvano Lopez's ex-wife and Demecio Lopez's sister, Amalia Lopez, now lives in Guatemala with the two children born to her and Silvano Lopez. On June 5, 2010, Demecio Lopez and two of his other siblings, Armando Lopez and Florinda Lopez, confronted Silvano Lopez at a laundromat, demanding that he turn over certain pictures of Amalia Lopez that Florinda Lopez had asked him to bring to the laundromat. Although Silvano Lopez returned some of these pictures, the three siblings thought he had more; they insisted on going back to Silvano Lopez's house to obtain additional pictures. Silvano Lopez's brother, Ricardo Lopez, was at the house. After accompanying Silvano Lopez back to the house, where he surrendered the remaining pictures, Demecio Lopez seized Silvano Lopez and forced him back outside. Demecio Lopez then called Angela Guevara and told her to come to the house with her van. When she arrived, she got out of the van and slapped Silvano Lopez several times. Demecio Lopez and Armando Lopez pushed Silvano Lopez inside the van, and Angela Guevara helped them by pulling on Silvano Lopez's belt. Inside the van, Silvano Lopez encountered a man he did not recognize. This unknown man then pressed a knife to Silvano Lopez's throat, telling him that he was going to die.

The kidnappers then drove Silvano Lopez around for what was apparently less than an hour, searching for a " street where there were no people around." At some point during this drive, Silvano Lopez received a call from his brother, Ricardo Lopez, on his cell phone. Noticing the incoming call, the unknown man warned Silvano Lopez that he would cut him if he answered.

Eventually, the kidnappers pulled the van over in a wooded area, where the unknown man ordered Silvano out of the vehicle. Then, with Demecio Lopez and Angela Guevara restraining Silvano Lopez's arms, Armando Lopez and the unknown man stabbed Silvano Lopez multiple times in the side and shoulder. During this time, Angela Guevara was slapping Silvano Lopez with one hand while holding him with the other. The assailants then carried the wounded Silvano Lopez back into the van. They drove for some additional time, searching for a place to dump their victim. Eventually, they deposited Silvano Lopez along the road in a different wooded area, somewhere near Catholic University.

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After tossing Silvano Lopez out near the curb, Demecio Lopez commanded him not to tell anyone what they had done. He instructed Silvano Lopez to tell the police that " a couple of black guys" had stabbed him. He warned that, if Silvano Lopez identified him and the other assailants to the police, he would find him in the hospital and murder him.[8]

Angela Guevara and Demecio Lopez were both brought to trial on eight separate counts arising out of the abduction and stabbing. During its case-in-chief, the government presented the testimony of three witnesses who did not speak English, including Silvano Lopez. Moreover, while Silvano Lopez gave his testimony in Spanish, he is not a native Spanish speaker— his native language is Q'eqchi'.[9]

Given the difficulties such linguistic problems were likely to cause, the trial court took precautionary steps to ensure an accurate translation. First, it made sure that there were always at least two interpreters present. Second, it asked Spanish-speaking jurors to alert the court to any perceived translation errors. Third, it received assurances from Demecio Lopez's trial counsel, Jose Molina, Esquire— himself a Spanish speaker— that he would monitor the interpretation and object if Silvano Lopez's testimony was translated improperly. While ...


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