A US appeals court confirmed on Tuesday the sentence for drug trafficking that had been imposed on Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, who had requested that it be annulled.
The New York Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a more than 40-page decision concluding that Guzmán's trial was conducted with “diligence and fairness” and that his conviction was therefore affirmed.
At a hearing in October, Guzmán's lawyers said his conviction should be overturned because jurors read newspaper articles that prejudiced them against Guzmán. They also said that Guzmán's trial, held in Brooklyn at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, was not fair because the confinement to which "El Chapo" was subjected in prison prevented him from working effectively with his lawyers in the preparation of his defense.
Attorney Marc Fernich asked for a new trial before a three-judge board of the appeals court.
Guzmán, a former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, was convicted of conspiracy to traffic drugs at the end of the trial and later sentenced to life in prison. He enjoyed almost mythical fame after escaping from prison twice in Mexico, the second time through an open tunnel in the bathroom of his cell. He was recaptured, extradited to the United States in 2017 and placed in solitary confinement.
After the trial, which was presided over by Judge Brian Cogan, a juror told a reporter anonymously that jurors read media reports about the case while the trial was going on. The judge had told them not to do that, so Fernich charged the jurors with violating the judge's orders.
Some of the news reports that jurors allegedly read, Guzmán's lawyers said, are about allegations of sexual abuse by Guzmán that were excluded from the trial. Reports allegedly said that Guzman had abused girls he referred to as "vitamins" that gave him energy.
Fernich said at the October hearing before the appeals court that those articles caused prejudice or hostile attitudes on the part of the jurors towards Guzmán and therefore the trial was not fair.
“You can't let that go unexamined,” Fernich said at the hearing.
Cogan had decided that the evidence about jurors reading media reports was not enough to call off the trial.
In Tuesday's decision, the appeals court said that Guzmán's confinement was fair, since security standards had to be met. He also concluded that he agreed with Cogan's conclusion that the jurors tried Guzmán impartially.
The appeals court said Cogan was correct in finding that "the jury was unbiased because of irrelevant information to which it may have been exposed." And he added: "Any possible bias was not harmful in the face of overwhelming evidence of Guzman's guilt."
With the decision of the appeals court, Guzmán's legal avenues to change his guilty verdict and sentence are now very limited. He could go to the US Supreme Court, although it is not guaranteed that it would take the case.
Fernich told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was disappointed.
"While we respect the court's decision, we are disappointed that substantial allegations of jury misconduct continue to be swept under the rug and not examined in a case of historic proportions," Fernich said in an email. "And it's all due, it seems, to the defendant's unparalleled notoriety."
Jeffrey Lichtman, another attorney for Guzman, said something similar in a statement Tuesday.
“How can there be justice here when the jury was exposed to offensive allegations against Mr. Guzmán that were not part of the prosecution's evidence?” Lichtman asked.
At trial, Guzmán's lawyers argued that he served as a scapegoat for other drug traffickers who knew how to bribe Mexican politicians and police chiefs to protect them.
According to the appeal, "Chapo Guzmán's prosecution was altered by excesses and excesses, both governmental and judicial, unnecessary resources if he really was a capo of capos as his opponents insisted."
Lawyers for the US government argued before the appeals court that “El Chapo” met with his lawyers about 20 hours a week to prepare for the trial and that the prison where he was held made special arrangements to facilitate those meetings and allow Guzmán access to the evidence provided by his lawyers.
“El Chapo”, one of the most powerful drug traffickers in the world, led the cartel responsible for trafficking cocaine and other drugs to the United States for more than 25 years. His "army of hit men" was ordered to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way, the United States says.