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United States v. Caesar

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

December 11, 2019

TALLISSA CAESAR, (USM# 11002-094) Defendant.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count One of the Indictment (“the Motion”) [ECF No. 76].[1] The Court has considered the Motion, the record, and the governing law. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Defendant's Motion and hereby DISMISSES Count One of the Indictment.

         THE FACTS

         On December 18, 2018, a federal grand jury charged the Defendant with (1) conspiracy to import cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 963 (Count One), and (2) conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count Two). See Indictment [ECF No. 3] at 1-3. On August 26, 2019, the case proceeded to trial. See Trial Tr. [ECF Nos. 91-94].

         At trial, the Government sought to establish that the Defendant had conspired with three other people-Juvanni Roach, Keshia Milligan, and David Joseph-to transport cocaine from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Florida. See Trial Tr. at 174-84. In its opening statement, the Government laid out the sequence of events: On an American Airlines flight between St. Croix and Miami, Roach-a passenger on that flight-walked into the lavatory to retrieve two packages of cocaine, which had been left there for him by the Defendant. Id. at 174-77. But, as he was pulling one of the two packages out of the lavatory's trash bin, he aroused the suspicion of a flight attendant, who ordered Roach back to his seat and later discovered the second package in the trash bin. Id. at 175- 76.

         Soon after the plane landed, Roach, who was promptly arrested, began cooperating against Joseph-the St. Croix supplier of the cocaine-and Joseph's then-girlfriend, Milligan, who had recruited Roach to take the trip. Id. at 178-80. But, according to the Government, it was the Defendant-an American Airlines contractor at the St. Croix airport-who had received the cocaine from Joseph, carried it onto the plan, and deposited it into the trash bin so that Joseph, whom she had driven to the airport, could later retrieve it. Id. at 183-84. During that car ride to the airport, the Government told the jury, the Defendant described for Roach precisely where she planned to hide the cocaine. Id. at 179.

         In her opening statement, the Defendant did two things: first, she impugned the credibility of Roach and Milligan, the Government's cooperating witnesses, id. at 186-88; second, she argued that, because the Government would be unable to present any physical evidence linking her to the cocaine, the jury would be left, at the end of the case, with a lingering doubt-a reasonable doubt- as to whether the Defendant had ever possessed the cocaine or placed it on the plane, id. at 188- 90.

         Roach testified that Milligan had recruited him to board the flight to Miami, that she had helped him obtain an identification card, and that she had paid him $1, 200 for his efforts. Id. at 329-32, 345-46, 378, 386. Turning to the Defendant, Roach said that she had driven him to the airport before his flight. Id. at 337. According to Roach, on this ride, the Defendant instructed him to collect a package from the trash bin in the lavatory that was at the back of the plane and on the same side of the aircraft as his seat. Id. at 337-39. In Roach's telling, when he entered this lavatory, he saw in the trash bin two packages, but was able to retrieve only one. Id. at 342-44. Roach testified that he did not know what was inside the packages. Id. at 347-48, 376-77.

         On cross-examination, Roach acknowledged that his testimony was inconsistent with several statements he had made during his initial interview with the police. See Id. at 365-68, 386, 394-95. Notably, in that initial interrogation, Roach did not mention that the Defendant had driven him to the airport and did not say that the Defendant had given him any instructions about what to do on the plane. Id. at 365, 374, 377. Roach acknowledged that he had lied during that interview- conceding, at one point, that he had been “beating around the bush”-but he nevertheless insisted that he was telling the truth at trial. Id. at 365-66, 374-75. Roach added that he did not want a sentencing reduction in exchange for his trial testimony. Id. at 357, 363-64.

         Milligan's testimony went even less smoothly. Milligan testified that she had asked Roach to take the plane trip and that, after some initial hesitation, he agreed. Id. at 445-47. Milligan provided Roach's personal information to Joseph, a cocaine supplier, who then purchased Roach's plane ticket for him. Id. at 467-68, 489. Milligan asked the Defendant to give Roach a ride to the airport. Id. at 450, 463. After Roach arrived at the airport, he called Milligan and said that the Defendant had told him “where it's gonna be”-though Roach did not explain what “it” referred to. Id. at 463-64.

         But Milligan also explained that she had only asked the Defendant to drive Roach to the airport because Milligan's car had broken down. Id. at 491-93. If her car had been working properly, Milligan said, she would have driven Roach herself. Id. at 504. Milligan claimed that she had never had any conversations with the Defendant about placing drugs on the plane. Id. at 502- 03. In fact, although Milligan knew that the Defendant worked for American Airlines, she did not know whether any airport worker-let alone the Defendant-had been involved in the conspiracy. Id. at 466, 497, 506-07. Milligan insisted that she had never seen the cocaine and that she did not know who had brought it onto the plane. Id. at 484, 503, 517-18.

         At the end of its case-in-chief, the Government introduced a video recording of a statement the Defendant had given to investigators, during the course of which she had admitted to strapping the two packages of cocaine onto her body, covering them up with her shirt, walking them onto the airplane, and then depositing them into the lavatory's trash bin so that Roach could retrieve them. See Id. at 644-48.[2] The Defendant declined to present any evidence or to testify. Id. at 695- 96, 708.

         In her closing argument, the Defendant reemphasized the themes she had presaged in her opening. She contended that Roach was not a credible witness and that Milligan's testimony had “sort of backfired on the government.” Id. at 750-52, 757. She reiterated her view that the absence of any physical evidence linking her to the cocaine-including any fingerprints, DNA, or video surveillance-should leave the jurors with a reasonable doubt about whether she had ever, in fact, possessed the cocaine or brought it onto the plane. Id. at 744-46, 748-49, 768. And she sought to cast doubt on the reliability of her recorded statement by suggesting that the investigators' lengthy, leading, and aggressive questioning had broken her down and coerced her into confessing to a crime she did not commit. Id. at 743-44. To bolster this theory, she identified several factual inconsistencies between her statement and the testimonies of Roach and Milligan-inconsistencies that, she insisted, would not have manifested themselves had everyone been telling the truth. Id. at 750, 754-55, 758.

         During its deliberations, the jury evidently homed in on the Defendant's recorded statement. In one note, the jury requested access to the Defendant's entire, hours-long interview and asked how much time had elapsed before the Defendant confessed. See Jury Notes [ECF No. 64] at 2. Noting that the full interview had not been admitted into evidence, the Court instructed the ...

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