Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Drug Conspiracy Convicion, with Life Sentence, Upheld

US v. Smith: Smith was convicted after a jury trial of conspiracy to distribute crack and possession with intent to distribute crack. The evidence showed that Smith was a member of a long-running crack distribution operation in western North Carolina. The government filed a section 851 information to enhance Smith's punishment for the conspiracy offense, resulting in a life term for Smith (life on the conspiracy count, 360 months on the possession count, served concurrently).

On appeal, Smith raised various challenges to his conviction on the conspiracy count, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected. First, he argued that there was insufficient evidence so support the conviction on the conspiracy count, both because he withdrew from the conspiracy after going to prison (never reentering the conspiracy) and that there were actually multiple small conspiracies proven by the evidence rather than one large conspiracy charged in the indictment. The court rejected both arguments, noting that several witnesses testified that Smith sold them crack after he was released from prison and that the evidence clearly showed one conspiracy.

Next, Smith argued that the district court erred in not granting his motion for new trial, on several grounds. The only ground given meaningful discussion by the court was the district court's limitation on Smith's cross examination of police witnesses related to the destruction of evidence (crack) allegedly seized during two arrests of Smith. While concluding that the district court's restriction was error, the error was harmless given the other evidence against Smith.

Smith also challenged the 851 information used to enhance his sentence on Booker grounds. The court rejected that argument, relying on Almendarez-Torres.

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