Unpublished Disposition, 902 F.2d 42 (9th Cir. 1988)Annotate this Case
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,v.Carlos RODRIGUEZ-RUIZ, Defendant-Appellant.
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Submitted April 24, 1990.* Decided April 27, 1990.
Before TANG, NELSON and O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judges.
Carlos Rodriguez-Ruiz appeals his conviction, following a jury trial, for two counts of knowingly possessing stolen mail, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1708. Ruiz contends that the evidence was insufficient to show that he knowingly possessed stolen mail. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and we affirm.
On May 3, 1988, mail was stolen on two separate occasions from two United States Postal Service vehicles in the Fresno, California area. Among the articles stolen were two envelopes. One envelope was addressed to Dick Ford and contained a U.S. Postal money order for $143.00 purchased by James Stubblefield and payable to Ford. The other envelope contained the social security check of Hilario Vargas. Both Ford and Vargas testified that they never received their respective money order and check and did not give permission to anyone else to cash them.
On May 5, 1988 an individual unsuccessfully attempted to cash Vargas's social security check at the Ventura Market in Fresno. Anthony Rivera, an employee, testified that after he took the check and temporary identification from the individual for verification purposes, the individual left the store, entered a blue car and drove away. At trial, Rivera identified Ruiz as the individual who tried to cash Vargas's check.
Tony Jacinto, another employee, testified that he copied the car's license plate number, and gave it to Rivera who, in turn, gave it to Leo Nolan, a United States Postal Inspector. At trial, Jacinto also identified the blue car in photographs presented by the government as the car he saw at the Ventura Market.
Leo Nolan testified that later on May 5, 1988 he saw the blue car, identified by Jacinto, parked in the driveway of Ruiz's home. The next day law enforcement officials searched Ruiz's residence and the blue car, but uncovered no mail from the March 3 thefts and did not process the blue car for fingerprints.
On May 25, 1988 Tino Zamora found two bags full of mail near Parlier, California. Postal authorities were notified and Patrick Corcoran, a United States Postal Inspector, testified that the mail was from the May 3 thefts. The empty envelopes which had contained Vargas's social security check and the money order to Ford were among the items found near Parlier. Susan Morton, a government fingerprint expert, testified that latent fingerprints taken from both envelopes matched those of Ruiz.
Ruiz denied possessing the stolen money order and social security check, and going to the Ventura Market on May 5, 1988. Ruiz also testified that the blue car belonged to his brother-in-law who was staying with Ruiz and his family at the time.
We will affirm a conviction if, after "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government and respecting the jury's ability to judge the credibility of the witnesses, resolve factual conflicts, and draw inferences, a rational jury could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Feldman, 853 F.2d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 1988).
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1708, the elements of the crime of possessing stolen mail are that the defendant 1) possessed the mail which he 2) knew was stolen, and which 3) actually had been stolen from the United States mails. United States v. Patterson, 664 F.2d 1346, 1347 (9th Cir. 1982). Possession may be established by circumstantial evidence. United States v. Hall, 845 F.2d 1281, 1284 (5th Cir. 1988) (possession inferred from defendant's fingerprint on check recently stolen from the mail); United States v. Soto, 779 F.2d 558, 560 (9th Cir. 1986) (possession of shotgun in car by defendant established by defendant's fingerprint on tape wrapped around stock of shotgun). A jury may infer that "one in possession of recently stolen property knows that it was stolen absent a satisfactory explanation." United States v. Ellison, 469 F.2d 413, 415 (9th Cir. 1972). "Evidence of flight is generally admissible as evidence of consciousness of guilt and of guilt itself." United States v. Harris, 792 F.2d 866, 869 (9th Cir. 1986).
Here, evidence adduced at trial is persuasive that Ruiz knowingly possessed the stolen check. Based upon Ruiz's unexplained fingerprint on the envelope containing the check, see Hall, 845 F.2d at 1284 (fingerprint establishing possession); Ellison, 469 F.2d at 415 (failure to explain possession of stolen property permits inference of knowledge), and direct evidence that Ruiz attempted to illegally cash the check, after which he fled in a blue car later found in his driveway, see Harris, 792 F.2d at 869, a reasonable jury could have inferred that Ruiz knowingly possessed the stolen check beyond a reasonable doubt. See Feldman, 853 F.2d at 654.
Here, a rational jury could also infer that Ruiz possessed the money order at some point after the theft based upon his unexplained fingerprint on the envelope. See Hall, 845 F.2d at 1284. Because Ruiz failed to offer a "satisfactory explanation" for his possession of the envelope containing the money order, a jury could also reasonably infer the Ruiz knew the money order was stolen. See Ellison, 469 F.2d at 415. This inference is bolstered by testimony regarding Vargas's check that 1) both the money order and the check were stolen during the May 3 thefts and their respective envelopes were found together, and 2) Ruiz had attempted to illegally cash the check after which he fled in a car later found at his home. Thus, a rational jury could infer from 1) Ruiz's fingerprint on the envelope containing the money order which he failed to explain, and 2) the facts surrounding the stolen Vargas check that Ruiz's possession of the money order was also knowing beyond a reasonable doubt. See Feldman, 853 F.2d at 654.