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United States v. Diaz

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 6, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Julio Gabriel Diaz, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted October 6, 2017 Pasadena, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Cormac J. Carney, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 8:12-cr-00011-CJC-1

          Davina T. Chen (argued), Glendale, California, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Ann Luotto Wolf (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Dennise D. Willett, Chief, Santa Ana Branch Office; United States Attorney's Office, Los Angeles, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Susan P. Graber, and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY [*]

         Criminal Law

         The panel affirmed a conviction for distributing controlled prescription drugs in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), in a case in which the defendant contended that the government's expert witness offered a legal conclusion in violation of Fed.R.Evid. 702 and 704.

         The panel held that if the terms used by an expert witness do not have a specialized meaning in law and do not represent an attempt to instruct the jury on the law, or how to apply the law to the facts of the case, the testimony is not an impermissible legal conclusion. The panel held that the district court in this case did not plainly err by admitting the expert testimony of a witness who did not substitute his judgment for the jury's but provided a professional opinion about whether a course of conduct comported with the standard of care prevalent in the medical community.

         For reasons stated in a concurrently-filed memorandum disposition, the panel vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.

          OPINION

          CHRISTEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Dr. Julio Diaz appeals his conviction and sentence under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), contending that the government's expert witness offered a legal conclusion in violation of Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 704. We reject his contention and affirm his conviction.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         From 1995 until 2011, Dr. Julio Diaz operated a clinic in Santa Barbara that catered to geriatric patients. In 2005, the clinic also started offering pain management and treatment. According to the government, this aspect of Diaz's practice soon evolved into little more than a facade for the illegal distribution of narcotics. Between 2008 and 2011, Diaz wrote more than 50, 000 prescriptions and prescribed more than 5 million opiate pills, with several patients being prescribed, on average, more than 60 tablets per day. In 2012, Diaz was indicted for 88 counts of distributing controlled prescription drugs in violation of 21 ...


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