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State v. Ruiz

November 24, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Ada County. The Hon. Michael E. Wetherell, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eismann, Chief Justice.

2010 Opinion No. 117

The judgment of the district court is vacated.

This appeal challenges the district court's ruling that the defendant could not cross-examine a co-defendant about the mandatory prison sentence he avoided by agreeing to testify for the State. We hold that the district court erred by not conducting the analysis required by Rule 403 of the Idaho Rules of Evidence, and we vacate the judgment of conviction.


In November 2004, a twenty-year-old woman was arrested for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, a felony with a maximum penalty of incarceration for five years and a fine of $15,000. She agreed to work for law enforcement as a confidential informant in the hope of receiving leniency. Eventually, her charge was dismissed, but she continued working as an informant for which she received about $350.

In August 2005, she telephoned Josh Morrison and asked to purchase some methamphetamine. He stated that he had two ounces to sell for $2,150. She then called the detective she was working with, and he told her to set up the purchase, which she did. She had previously purchased illegal controlled substances from Morrison as a confidential informant.

On August 11, 2005, she met with law enforcement in a store parking lot to prepare for the transaction. She and her car were searched, a transmitter was hidden on her body, and she was given $2,150 in recorded bills. She then drove to the parking lot of another store to meet Morrison. Law enforcement personnel followed in their vehicles to observe the transaction.

The informant met Morrison in the parking lot of the second store, and he got into her car. At some point, she gave Morrison the money. She then drove to the parking lot of a third store and got out of her car, leaving Morrison in it. She walked a short ways away and stood by the curb. Shortly thereafter a dark-complexioned male came out of a nearby ice cream shop, walked past her, and got into her car. She could see him talking with Morrison, and she saw him exchange methamphetamine for the money. The man then got out and walked away. When she got back in her car, Morrison weighed the methamphetamine to make sure it was the correct amount and then, at the informant's request, put it into the glove compartment of her car. She drove Morrison back to the parking lot where she picked him up, and then she drove to the parking lot of the first store, where she met again with law enforcement and gave them the methamphetamine.

Although law enforcement observed the dark-complexioned man who had entered the informant's car to sell the methamphetamine, they were unable to identify him. About twelve days after the transaction, they arrested Morrison. He stated that the dark-complexioned man was Mario Ruiz, the defendant in this case.

Morrison and Ruiz were both charged with trafficking in twenty-eight or more grams of methamphetamine, a felony having a penalty of imprisonment for at least three years and up to life and a fine of at least $10,000 and up to $100,000. Morrison agreed to testify against Ruiz in exchange for a reduction in the charge against him to delivery of a controlled substance, a felony with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a $25,000 fine, but no minimum sentence. The State agreed to recommend jail and probation if Morrison testified truthfully.

During Ruiz's trial, the State called Morrison as a witness. While being cross-examined regarding his plea agreement, Morrison testified inaccurately that probation was not discussed.

Ruiz's counsel asked for a recess to address the inaccurate testimony. During that recess, Morrison stated that he had misunderstood the question. The prosecuting attorney then stated that there should not be any mention of the minimum penalty that Morrison avoided by testifying against Ruiz. The district court agreed. Ruiz was found guilty by the jury, and after the judgment of conviction was entered he timely appealed.

The appeal was first heard by the Idaho Court of Appeals. Ruiz contended that by preventing cross examination about the mandatory minimum sentence Morrison avoided, the district court violated Ruiz's right to confront the witnesses against him under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and violated Rule 403 of the Idaho Rules of Evidence. The Court of Appeals held that Ruiz's rights under the Confrontation Clause were not violated, but it did not address the alleged violation of Rule 403. Ruiz then petitioned for review by this Court, and we granted his request. When we ...

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