Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Drug Trafficker's Life Sentence
United States Attorney Randolph J. Seiler announces that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the life sentence of Luciano Camberos-Villapuda who was convicted in March 2015 by a federal jury in Sioux Falls of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine.
“This prosecution ended the career of a significant interstate drug trafficker, responsible for polluting our South Dakota communities with methamphetamine,” U.S. Attorney Seiler said. “Today’s decision upholding his life sentence without parole should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone involved in the illegal drug trade.”
In May 2013, police in Denver received a tip that an out-of-state vehicle would be delivering methamphetamine to a home there. Denver police conducted surveillance of the area. In the early morning hours, as he was walking in the neighborhood’s alley, one of the detectives observed a man, later identified as Camberos, using a flashlight to work under an SUV.
The detective was suspicious that Camberos was making a “vehicle hide”—an alteration made to a vehicle’s frame, in which narcotics, weapons, and firearms can be hidden. He and other officers approached Camberos and questioned him. When questioned, Camberos gave various conflicting, suspicious statements, such as not knowing who owned the vehicle, that he did not know who lived in the house and had not been inside, but then later he said he was staying there. The officers secured the residence and pursued a search warrant. Officers were concerned that others within the home might dispose of evidence or present a safety risk. There was also concern that Camberos might be attempting to burglarize the residence. As they secured the residence, officers saw methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
After obtaining a warrant, the officers searched the SUV and the home. They seized two handguns, over 200 grams of methamphetamine, and $80,000. Camberos was charged with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. He moved to suppress evidence seized and statements he made to the police in Denver, and that motion was denied.
A jury found Camberos guilty of the conspiracy charge. Evidence at trial showed that, among other places, Camberos was trafficking drugs to South Dakota, including shipments made to Yankton. Because Camberos had been convicted previously of two felony drug offenses, he was subject to a mandatory life sentence.
Camberos appealed, arguing that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence and that his life sentence violated the Constitution. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court properly denied the motion to suppress physical evidence. The appellate court reasoned that Camberos abandoned any privacy right to the searched property when he told officers they were not his.
Camberos’s challenge to his life sentence also failed. The appellate court cited its own precedent and Congress’s clear intent to subject recidivist federal drug offenders to a mandatory life sentence.
Assistant United States Attorney John Haak prosecuted the case, and Assistant United States Attorney Dennis Holmes argued the appeal for the government. The case was investigated by the Denver Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.