Background information was properly presented to the jury to provide context for the defendant’s contacts with an undercover DEA agent.
“We review a district court’s evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. Romanelli v. Suliene, 615 F.3d 847, 854 (7th Cir. 2010). Penaloza first challenges the admission of evidence relating to the DEA’s investigation of Gutierrez. The district court allowed the government to elicit this testimony to give the jury some context for Agent Elias’s contacts with Penaloza. This evidence was not hearsay, as Penaloza contends; it was not offered for the truth of the matter asserted but rather for the purpose of explaining why the agent took the investigative steps that he did. See United States v. Mancillas, 580 F.2d 1301, 1309 (7th Cir. 1978); see also, e.g., United States v. Powers, 500 F.3d 500, 508 (6th Cir. 2007); United States v. Castellini, 392 F.3d 35, 52 (1st Cir. 2004); United States v. Wilson, 107 F.3d 774, 781 (10th Cir. 1997); United States v. Collins, 996 F.2d 950, 953 (8th Cir. 1993). Had the government presented Penaloza’s taped phone calls without first providing some background about the DEA investigation of Gutierrez, there would have been confusing and unexplained gaps in the story. How did Elias obtain Penaloza’s phone number and why did he call it? Who was ‘Elivardo’ and what was the significance of the reference to 70 kilograms of cocaine? Elias’s limited testimony about his related prior dealings with Gutierrez gave the jury the contextual information necessary to understand the significance of these references in the taped phone conversations.”
09-3549 U.S. v. Penaloza
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Lefkow, J., Sykes, J.