EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cocaine Cowboys: Eleventh Circuit Uses Invited Error Doctrine To Uphold Admission Of Cocaine Evidence

The recent opinion of the Eleventh CIrcuit in United States v. Villavicencio, 2008 WL 2894108 (11th Cir. 2008), gives me my first opportunity to address the invited error doctrine.  In Villavicencio, Carlos Villavicencio was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.  The prosecution's theory of the case was that Jose Terazon ran a methamphetamine ring, in which he would mail the drug to Scarlett Herrera and Natalie Gianella, who in turn would forward the drug to distributors in South Florida, including Villavicencio.  In August 2005, Terazon sent a five-pound package to Sanchez-Reyes and Gianella, two to three pounds of which were allegedly earmarked for Villavicencio, but police intercepted the package, arrested Sanchez-Reyes and Gianella, and later charged Villavicencio.

At Villavicencio's trial, DEA Agent Todd Phillips testified about a search of Villavicencio's bedroom.  During cross-examination, defense counsel asked Phillips if two grams of cocaine were found during the search, and he replied that they were. Later in the trial, the government introduced a stipulation of facts providing that two grams of cocaine were recovered from a search of Villavicencio's bedroom, and Villavicencio did not object to the admission of the stipulation.  After Villavicencio was convicted, he appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the evidence concerning the two grams of cocaine recovered from his bedroom was inadmissible character evidence.    

The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, finding that "[t]he doctrine of invited error is implicated when a party induces or invites the district court into making an error and where such error exists, we are precluded from reversing."  Moreover, the court noted that "[w]e have held that where a defendant stipulates to admission of evidence he is later precluded from challenging such admission for constitutional error."  In other words, Villavicencio was precluded from challenging the admission of this evidence because he invited the alleged error he subsequently challenged "on appeal by introducing the fact that cocaine was discovered at a search of his house to the jury when his counsel cross-examined Agent Phillips, and by agreeing to the government's stipulation of facts."

It seems to me that the Eleventh Circuit correctly applied the invited error doctrine, merely leaving the question of why Villavicencio's trial counsel introduced the fact that cocaine was discovered at  Villavicencio's house.  Without knowing the full facts of the case, my guess would be that defense counsel was trying to use the fact that cocaine was found at Villavicencio's house to prove that he used the cocaine himself and did not distribute it.  If that wasn't the case, however, it would seem that the proper basis for Villavicencio's appeal would be that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel.



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