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Moreta v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

April 16, 2019

JOSE MORETA, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: March 6, 2019

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID. No. 1603013733

          Before VAUGHN, SEITZ, and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          ORDER

          Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Justice.

         This 16th day of April, 2019, having considered the briefs and the record below, and following oral argument, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) After a seven-day trial, a Superior Court jury convicted Jose Moreta of murder and related charges for his role in the shooting death of Christian Serrano and the wounding of Jerry DeLeon following a confrontation in the City of Wilmington. On appeal, Moreta argues the Superior Court erred by (a) admitting into evidence a Facebook post by his accomplice, Joshua Gonzalez, two days after the shooting, and (b) not intervening to correct the prosecutor in response to his allegedly improper statements during summation. After a careful review of the record, we find the trial court acted within its discretion and affirm Moreta's convictions.

         (2) On March 17, 2016, Moreta and Gonzalez chased Hector Guzman through the streets of Wilmington. Apparently, there was "bad blood" between Moreta and Guzman. Christian Serrano and Jerry DeLeon-who were friends of Guzman-heard about the chase, and confronted Moreta and Gonzalez. Moreta told Gonzalez to "hit" DeLeon, which testimony suggested meant "shoot him."[1] But DeLeon punched Moreta before Gonzalez acted. Moreta and Serrano then walked away. While they walked up the street, shots were fired in their direction. DeLeon was shot in the arm and Serrano was fatally shot in the head. Moreta and Gonzalez fled the scene.

         (3) A Wilmington Police Officer heard the shots, spotted Moreta, and gave chase. Within minutes the police apprehended Moreta inside a house after he told the residents not to tell the police he was hiding under the bed. In the house the police also found Moreta's black hooded sweatshirt, which he was seen wearing when confronting DeLeon and Serrano. Gonzalez fled in an opposite direction and evaded arrest that day.[2] Although it was not clear from testimony whether Moreta or Gonzalez fired a gun, Moreta's right palm tested positive for gunshot residue. The police also discovered a firearm in a backyard on the street where Moreta and Gonzalez fled. The gun matched one of the firearms used in the shooting. Various surveillance cameras captured the events leading up to the gunfire, although none recorded the actual shooting.

[3]
I am going to allow the other evidence in with respect to the text messages and the Facebook posts. There's a conspiracy and accomplice liability, so the information regarding the MOET squad. . . . But we'll have to make an instruction at the time that it's being offered not for the truth of the matter asserted but is being used for other purposes in the case. . . . I actually read one of the cases where this was discussed. I guess it's the Williams[4] case. The judge gave a limiting instruction almost identical, Williams v. State, and the judge created an instruction saying it's not being offered for the truth of the matter asserted. In Williams v. State I think the judge actually found the conspiracy lasting - I'm not sure it's as relevant as it is in this case, actually. In that case, there was a question of whether the conspiracy was still ongoing. Mr. Gonzalez at this point has absconded from the scene, and this is just two days later and it's still part of the whole situation that's going on in the case. So, the gun's missing at this point, still. And the State has the conspiracy and the accomplice liability, and that's where the relevance of this information comes from. And I do find that the relevance is not substantially outweighed by the probative value. . . . But I think it's different with the MOET squad or MOET Boys. There is conspiracy and accomplice liability. There's going to be testimony about - I can't remember the name, but Mr. Moreta is more the leader and there's an indication it's going to be related to his name. So I think, in that instance, that there's relevance and it's not substantially outweighed by the prejudicial effect. There isn't a gang charge in this case, but there is an accomplice liability and a conspiracy, and showing a connection between the two shows that they got together to come up with a course of action.[5]

         The trial judge instructed the jury it could only consider the post for the limited purpose of accomplice liability and conspiracy. The Superior Court sustained defense objections to a video and picture that were deemed too prejudicial and ordered some text submissions to be partially redacted.[6]

         (5) On appeal, Moreta argues that the Superior Court erred in admitting the

         Facebook post into evidence because it was hearsay and did not fit within the exception to hearsay for statements made by a co-conspirator in furtherance of a conspiracy.[7] According to Moreta, Gonzalez posted the text well after the crime was completed, ending the conspiracy. The State responds that the text is not hearsay and thus no exception is required for admission into evidence because the text was not used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Instead, the State used the text to establish the connection between Moreta and Gonzalez. We review for abuse of discretion.[8]

         (6) Out of court statements are hearsay if they are "offer[ed]. . . to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement."[9] We agree with the trial judge that the post was not offered by the State to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the post-do not mess with the M.O.E.T. group in the future or you could end up dead. Instead, the State used Gonzalez's Facebook post and an Instagram post by Moreta to respond to Moreta's claim that he was not associated with Gonzalez at the time of the shooting.[10] The two posts used the same hashtags and referred to M.O.E.T.[11]Thus, the Facebook post assisted the State in proving accomplice liability and a conspiracy. To mitigate prejudice to Moreta-where the jury might imply that Moreta and Gonzalez had shot someone recently-the court gave a limiting instruction telling jurors to confine their use of the post to accomplice liability and conspiracy.[12] Thus, the Superior Court did not err ...


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