Argued: January 26, 2017
from the United States District Court for the District of
Maryland, at Greenbelt. Paul W. Grimm, District Judge.
D. Hernandez, LAW OFFICES OF CARMEN D. HERNANDEZ, Highland,
Maryland, for Appellant.
Brooke Harris, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
Washington, D.C., for Appellee.
Rosenstein, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED
STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.
MOTZ, KING, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.
HARRIS, Circuit Judge:
2007, two young men robbed a brothel in Langley Park,
Maryland, raping one victim and killing another. Several
years later, DNA testing identified appellant Alexsi Lopez as
a suspect, and Lopez was indicted in 2013, more than six
years after the crime. Though Lopez was 17 years old at the
time of the robbery, he was over 21 when indicted, and thus
tried as an adult. A jury convicted Lopez of two counts under
the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), the federal robbery
of over six years between crime and indictment is the primary
focus of Lopez's appeal. Lopez argues, first, that
because he was under 18 when the robbery was committed, he
should have been tried as a juvenile notwithstanding the
passage of time before his indictment, and that to the extent
the Juvenile Delinquency Act, 18 U.S.C. § 5031, provides
otherwise, it is unconstitutional. Lopez also argues that his
prosecution was untimely under the ordinary five-year statute
of limitations for a Hobbs Act robbery, and that 18 U.S.C.
§ 3297, which extends the limitations period in certain
cases involving DNA testing, does not apply. And third, Lopez
claims that the government violated his due process rights by
delaying his indictment without justification.
agree with the district court that Lopez's timing-related
arguments are without merit. We also agree that the
government established the connection to interstate commerce
necessary to sustain a Hobbs Act conviction. And we find no
error in the evidentiary rulings challenged on appeal, or in
Lopez's sentencing. Accordingly, we affirm.
Langley Park area of Prince George's County, Maryland,
includes several apartment complexes that house illegal
businesses, including a network of brothels. Because those
businesses are illegal, they are frequent targets of La Mara
Salvatrucha, a gang, better known as MS-13; among other
things, MS-13 seeks to impose weekly "rent" charges
on these underground establishments.
events giving rise to this case occurred at a Langley Park
brothel on February 28, 2007. The brothel, located in a
first-floor apartment, was staffed on that day by two
workers: Adelaida Garcia-Calderon, who regularly traveled
from her home in New York to work as a prostitute; and a
doorman, who collected money from customers. Two men entered
the apartment and demanded money. After tying the
doorman's hands and feet with the electric cord of a fan,
they searched the apartment. One of the intruders,
brandishing a knife, forced Garcia-Calderon into a bedroom,
and then raped her at knifepoint. Although the man placed a
pillow over much of Garcia-Calderon's face,
Garcia-Calderon was able to see the sheath of the knife on a
table by the bed.
Garcia-Calderon was in the bedroom, a man named Carlos Cordon
inadvertently walked in on the robbery, and began to yell and
plead with the man in the living room not to harm him. When
Cordon would not "shut up" as instructed, the
assailant repeatedly stabbed him. J.A. 110. Cordon, whose body was discovered the next
day behind the apartment building, died as a result of
multiple sharp force injuries. Garcia-Calderon and the
doorman survived the robbery: After the intruders left the
premises, Garcia-Calderon untied the doorman and then,
shocked and frightened, escaped through a window in the
Prince George's County Police Department
("PGCPD") directed the ensuing investigation.
Garcia-Calderon was unable to identify either robber,
including her rapist. But state investigators collected over
40 pieces of physical evidence from the crime scene,
including the knife sheath from the table next to the bed
where Garcia-Calderon was raped. Because the PGCPD did not
have a DNA lab in operation at the time, it outsourced DNA
testing to a private lab in Baltimore; and in light of the
costs of private testing, the PGCPD followed a "triage
process, " J.A. 571, under which it conserved resources
by first sending only the five most important items to be
tested. Although the five items selected by investigators did
not initially return any results, in September of 2011, the
PGCPD was informed that the DNA of Miguel Ramon Cerros-Cruz,
an MS-13 member, was found on the electric cords used to bind
the doorman during the 2007 robbery.
knife sheath was submitted for DNA testing with a second
round of evidence in November of 2011. On April 23, 2012, the
federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) matched the DNA
found on the knife sheath to Lopez. Based on that finding,
the PGCPD secured a warrant to collect a DNA sample from
Lopez, and on June 27, 2012, after performing its own
analysis, the PGCPD lab concluded that the DNA on the knife
sheath matched the sample taken from Lopez.
identified Lopez as a suspect, the PGCPD investigated further
to confirm Lopez's involvement in the robbery. In May
2013, it secured the testimony of a confidential informant, a
member of MS-13 serving a prison sentence. In late 2007, the
informant overheard Lopez - then incarcerated in the same
facility - tell another inmate that he and Cerros-Cruz had
robbed a brothel and killed a man who refused to cooperate.
this additional information in hand, the government formally
charged Lopez, and on July 15, 2013, more than six years
after the robbery, a grand jury indicted both Lopez and
Cerros-Cruz for one count of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act
robbery and one count of Hobbs Act robbery. See 18
U.S.C. § 1951. Cerros-Cruz entered into a plea agreement
on the conspiracy count, and in return, the government
dismissed the robbery count against him. As agreed upon by
the parties, Cerros-Cruz was sentenced to ten years'
elected to go to trial. Under the Juvenile Delinquency Act,
which removes juveniles from the adult criminal justice
system, the government generally may not try a juvenile in
federal court. 18 U.S.C. § 5032. But because Lopez, 17
at the time of the crime, was 24 when he was indicted six
years later, the government proceeded against him as an adult
and in federal court.
trial, Lopez moved to dismiss the indictment against him,
arguing that the Juvenile Delinquency Act ("JDA" or
"Act") prohibited the government from initiating
proceedings in federal court. And to the extent that the JDA
does not treat him as a juvenile, Lopez contended, the Act is
unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection
components of the Fifth Amendment as well as the Eighth
Amendment. The district court denied Lopez's motion.
Relying on United States v. Blake, 571 F.3d 331 (4th
Cir. 2009), the court held that under the plain language of
the JDA, "if charges are brought against the defendant .
. . [when] he is 21 or older, even if the conduct [was]
committed as a juvenile, " the prosecution falls outside
the scope of the statute. J.A. 42. The court then rejected
Lopez's constitutional challenge to the JDA so construed,
noting that other courts have rejected similar challenges and
that no authority supported Lopez's position.
also moved to dismiss based on pre-indictment delay, raising
two distinct claims. First, he maintained that the charges
against him, filed more than six years after the offense,
were barred by the five-year statute of limitations that
applies to the Hobbs Act. The district court rejected that
claim, relying on 18 U.S.C. § 3297, which restarts an
otherwise applicable limitations period if "DNA testing
implicates an identified person in the commission of a
felony." S.A. 77-78 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3297).
Because Lopez was not "implicate[d]" until 2012,
when DNA results on the knife sheath were returned, the court
reasoned, the government was well within the new five-year
limitations period when it charged Lopez in 2013.
second claim - that over six years of pre-indictment delay
violated his due process rights - fared no better. In denying
Lopez's pre-trial motion to dismiss, the district court
assumed for the sake of argument that Lopez could show the
necessary prejudice arising from the delay. But because the
delay was not caused by government misconduct and instead was
justified by the government's continued investigation,
the court held, Lopez could not make the second required
showing: that "the reason for the delay violates . . .
fundamental concepts of justice, fair play, and
decency." S.A. 107 (citing United States v.
Williams, 684 F.2d 296, 302 (4th Cir. 1982)). When it
revisited Lopez's due process claim at the end of the
trial, the district court amended its reasoning, finding this
time that Lopez in fact could not make the "threshold
showing" of prejudice necessary to sustain his claim.
case proceeded to trial, where one of the government's
key witnesses was the confidential informant who had been
incarcerated with Lopez in 2007. The informant told the jury
about the conversation he overheard between his cellmate, an
MS-13 gang member, and Lopez, in which Lopez boasted about
committing a robbery and murder at a brothel. He also
testified that the MS-13 gang ...