from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Texas
REAVLEY, SMITH, and OWEN, Circuit Judges.
REAVLEY, Circuit Judge:
convicted Araceli Garcia of bringing unlawful aliens into the
United States for the purpose of commercial advantage or
private financial gain, a violation of 8 U.S.C. §
1324(a)(2)(B)(ii). Garcia appeals her conviction, arguing
only that the Government failed to prove that she acted with
the requisite financial purpose. We conclude, however, that
the totality of the evidence allowed the jury to reasonably
infer such a purpose. Garcia's conviction is affirmed.
13, 2016, a Cadillac Escalade travelled from Mexico and
arrived at the Lincoln-Juarez Bridge, which serves as a port
of entry into the United States by way of Laredo, Texas.
Araceli Garcia (the owner of the vehicle) sat in the
passenger's seat, her 17-year-old daughter was the
driver, and five or six other children occupied the
vehicle's remaining seats.
States Customs and Border Protection Officer Andrew Lewinski
approached the vehicle, and Garcia informed him that the
vehicle was overheating. Yet, Lewinski observed that the
vehicle's air conditioning was running full blast, no
warning lights appeared on the dash, and none of the
vehicle's occupants were sweating. As for the group's
itinerary, Garcia explained that her daughter and
grandchildren drove from Houston toward Monterrey to visit
family, but upon discovering that the Monterrey relatives
were not home, the family turned around to stay with other
relatives in Laredo. This explanation was dubious, too, given
the vehicle's lack of luggage.
then collected identification documents (birth certificates,
passports, etc.) from each person in the vehicle, and he
began to read aloud the names to match the documents to the
passengers. Two of the child passengers responded to names
found on a pair of Texas birth certificates: Stephanie Soto
and Adrian Soto. But a brief investigation called into
question the validity of those identities; neither child
spoke English, and "Stephanie" misspelled the name
on her purported birth certificate. Ultimately, officers
discovered that "Stephanie" was in reality D.I.P.M.
and "Adrian" was M.G.M.-both Mexican siblings and
both without prior permission to come into the United States.
jury indicted Garcia on two counts of bringing unlawful
aliens into the United States for the purpose of commercial
advantage or private financial gain in violation of 8 U.S.C.
§ 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii). At trial, several officers
explained the factual circumstances of the offense. And,
importantly, D.I.P.M. herself shed further light on the
smuggling endeavor. D.I.P.M. confirmed that arrangements were
in place to smuggle her and her brother into the United
States and that Garcia was the person designated to do so.
D.I.P.M. was not related to Garcia and had never seen her
before meeting for the first time in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
There, Garcia supplied the children with the birth
certificates and other biographical information to
corroborate the false identities. The group's ultimate
goal was to cross into Laredo and travel to Garcia's home
in Houston. D.I.P.M. and M.G.M. had been living apart from
their mother (a New York resident), the logical inference
being that the smuggling attempt was meant to reunite the
asked whether Garcia "was going to be paid money in
order to have [the children] smuggled into the United States,
" D.I.P.M. testified: "I only know that she was
going to [be] paid the expenses that we would have on the
journey." D.I.P.M. learned of this payment from her
mother but did not know how much money it entailed.
the Government rested, Garcia moved for acquittal under
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. The district court
denied the motion, the defense rested without calling a
witness, and the jury convicted Garcia on both counts.
Because the statute of conviction carries a three-year
mandatory minimum, the district court sentenced Garcia on
each count to three years' imprisonment with a three-year
term of supervised release, each sentence to run
concurrently. 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(2)(B). Garcia appealed,
challenging only the sufficiency of the evidence with respect
to whether she acted "for the purpose of commercial
advantage or private financial gain."
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing Garcia's preserved legal-sufficiency challenge,
we must affirm her conviction "if, after viewing the
evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of
fact could have found the essential elements of the crime
beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v.
Vargas-Ocampo, 747 F.3d 299, 301 (5th Cir. 2014) (en
banc) (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319
(1979)). At the same time, we remain obligated to evaluate
"whether the inferences drawn by a jury were rational,
as opposed to being speculative or insupportable, and whether
the evidence is sufficient to establish every element of the
crime." Id. at 302.