US v. Roger Meraz-Fugon
UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 1:16-cr-00018-LO-1 Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. .. [16-4506]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
ROGER HEDILBERTO MERAZ-FUGON,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, at Alexandria.
Liam O’Grady, District
January 31, 2017
Before FLOYD and
February 10, 2017
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Geremy C. Kamens, Federal Public Defender, Todd M. Richman,
Assistant Federal Public Defender, Alexandria, Virginia, for
Appellant. Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney, Jonathan P.
Robell, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Alexandria,
Virginia, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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The district court sentenced Meraz-Fugon to 16 months
appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in (1) declining
to instruct the jury on his theory of defense; giving a coercive
jury charge of the type condemned in Allen v. United States, 164
U.S. 492 (1896); (3) responding to several questions from the
jury; and (4) permitting the cumulative effect of these errors
to deprive him a fair trial.
Finding no error, we affirm.
“In general, we defer to a district court’s decision to
withhold a defense in a proposed jury instruction in light of
formulate the jury instruction.”
quotation marks omitted).
United States v. Powell, 680
Reversible error in refusing to give
such an instruction results “only when the instruction (1) was
correct; (2) was not substantially covered by the court’s charge
to the jury; and (3) dealt with some point in the trial so
United States v. Passaro, 577 F.3d 207, 221 (4th Cir.
2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).
A “district court
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d[oes] not abuse its discretion” by refusing to give a proposed
given,” just because “a more specific instruction might have
been desirable to” the defendant.
F.3d 360, 378 (4th Cir. 2010).
United States v. Green, 599
Here, assuming arguendo that
Meraz-Fugon’s proposed instruction was a correct statement of
the law, we conclude that the substance of the instruction was
substantially covered by the instructions given to the jury and
instruction did not impair Meraz-Fugon’s ability to conduct his
Next, Meraz-Fugon contends that the district court gave a
coercive Allen charge after the jury informed the court that it
was deadlocked and could not reach a verdict.
He argues that
the Allen charge given was coercive to jurors in the minority
and that the instruction improperly made reference to the costs
We review the content of an Allen charge for abuse
United States v. Cornell, 780 F.3d 616, 625 (4th
Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 127 (2015).
whether an Allen charge has an impermissible coercive effect on
jury deliberations, we consider the content of the instruction
as well as the context.
Jenkins v. United States, 380 U.S. 445,
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The traditional, “pure” Allen charge, “informed the jury
(1) that a new trial would be expensive for both sides; (2) that
there is no reason to believe that another jury would do a
better job; (3) that it is important that a unanimous verdict be
reached; and (4) that jurors in the minority should consider
whether the majority’s position is correct.”
Burgos, 55 F.3d 933, 936 (4th Cir. 1995).
United States v.
Based on the concern
that the instruction to the minority members may be coercive,
this Court has “strongly recommended” the modification of any
Allen charge to “address all jurors, both in the minority and in
the majority, to give equal consideration to each other’s views”
so that the charge is “less coercive with respect to jurors in
United States v. Hylton, 349 F.3d 781, 788 (4th
Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).
apply pressure to the jury in a way that preserves all jurors’
independent judgments and that they do so in a balanced manner.”
Thus, “an Allen charge must not coerce the jury, and it
must be fair, neutral and balanced.”
United States v. Cropp,
127 F.3d 354, 359-60 (4th Cir. 1997).
After reviewing the record, we conclude that the district
coercive to the minority jurors.
The district court’s brief
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emphasis on this factor when considered in the context of the
entire instruction[;] [n]or was it unduly coercive.”
States v. West, 877 F.2d 281, 291 (4th Cir. 1989).
Nor did the
supplemental instructions by the court and further deliberation
by the jury occurred between receipt of that note and the note
triggering the Allen charge.
Finally, the speed with which a
jury returns a verdict after receiving a modified Allen charge
is not decisive.
See, e.g., Lowenfield v. Phelps, 484 U.S. 231,
necessarily indicative of coercion); United States v. Chigbo, 38
F.3d 543, 545-46 (11th Cir. 1994) (affirming conviction when
verdict returned 15 minutes after the instruction).
Next, Meraz-Fugon argues that the district court’s answers
to the jury’s questions (1) created confusion and improperly
steered the jury away from considering his theory of defense and
regarding the supplemental instructions.
This Court reviews the
form and content of a district court’s response to the jury’s
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question for an abuse of discretion.
684 F.3d 445, 453 (4th Cir. 2012).
United States v. Burgess,
“[T]he necessity, extent and
responding to a jury question, not to encroach upon its factfinding power.”
United States v. Cooper, 482 F.3d 658, 664 (4th
clarification on a charge, the district court’s duty is simply
to respond to the jury’s apparent source of confusion fairly and
Foster, 507 F.3d 233, 244 (4th Cir. 2007) (brackets and internal
quotation marks omitted).
“An error requires reversal only if
it is prejudicial in the context of the record as a whole.”
We have reviewed the record and conclude that the trial
Meraz-Fugon, who never sought an opportunity below
to address the jury concerning the supplemental instructions,
has failed to demonstrate any prejudice caused by the lack of
Because we find no error, individually or cumulatively, we
affirm the district court’s judgment.
We dispense with oral
argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately
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presented in the materials before this court and argument would
not aid the decisional process.
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