The indictment of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s sons, Joaquin Guzman Lopez and Ovidio Guzman Lopez, on charges of conspiracy to distribute drugs, was unsealed by the U.S. Justice Department last week. The two are believed to live in Mexico currently, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The unsealing of their indictment comes just days after Eduardo Balarezo, El Chapo Guzman’s lawyer, wrote a letter informing the U.S. District Court that he intended to file a motion for a new trial after a report surfaced indicating that jurors in the first trial had committed misconduct by following media accounts during the trial. This would undermine Guzman’s access to a trial by an impartial jury which is guaranteed in the 6th Amendment. In light of this news, Judge Cogan granted Balarezo’s request for an extension, giving the defense until March 28th to file the motion for a new trial. In an interesting note, it was Judge Cogan who, after the trial concluded, commended the jury for their professional conduct on the panel.
According to a VICE News report, citing an anonymous juror as their primary source of information, at least five jurors and two alternates in the trial had been exposed to press coverage of child rape allegations against Guzman which had not been admitted as evidence during the trial. While the unnamed juror said that this news did not influence the decisions of the other jurors, the granting of the appeal would only require that the probability of prejudice be raised, and not that identifiable or verifiable prejudice be proven. This distinction arises from the case of Estes v. Texas. Further, the case of Sheppard v. Maxwell concluded, in an 8-1 decision, that “though freedom of discussion should be given the widest range compatible with the fair and orderly administration of justice, it must not be allowed to divert a trial from its purpose of adjudicating controversies according to legal procedures based on evidence received only in open court.” Because jurors were discussing news related to the trial and because evidence not admitted in open court may have influenced juror’s decisions, it is likely the case will be reopened.
Finally, it might be assumed that the unsealing of the indictments of Guzman’s sons was a direct response to this challenge of the trial’s legitimacy. However, given that the unsealing occurred before news of this new motion broke, it appears that these events are unconnected.
Evan Schleicher is an Editorial Intern with the International Enforcement Law Reporter. He is also an MA candidate in Security Policy Studies at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.