Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Court Affirms Conviction, Life Sentence, for Crack Possession

US v. Farrior: Farrior was involved in two car searches that uncovered crack cocaine.

The first was the result of a traffic stop for an inoperable tag light. After Farrior was given a verbal warning, the officer who pulled him over asked if he would step out of the car and talk. Farrior agreed and eventually consented to a search of the car, which uncovered nothing. In the interim, another officer arrived on the scene with a drug dog, which sniffed the outside of the car, alerting to the trunk. The officers eventually searched one of Farrior's boots, finding 5.5 grams of crack cocaine and cash.

The second search occurred when Farrior was the victim of a shooting. After towing his vehicle, officers searched it and found 469 grams of crack cocaine (also in boots). Farrior was convicted of possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine and possession of more than 50 grams of crack cocaine and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, Farrior challenged both his convictions and sentence, which the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

First, the court rejected Farrior's argument that the evidence uncovered during the first traffic stop should be suppressed. The court concluded that the officers did not unduly prolong the valid traffic stop such that it violated the Fourth Amendment. Second, the court rejected Farrior's Batson challenge to the Government's strike of his jury's only African-American member, pointing out the numerous race-neutral reasons given by the Government to support its decision. Third, the court concluded that the district court properly denied Farrior's request for a new trial due to statements of the prosecution about reasonable doubt during closing argument.

As to Farrior's sentence, the Fourth Circuit first rejected Farrior's argument that the court document used to prove a prior conviction was not sufficient because it did not contain an actual judge's signature, only a mechanical "authorized signature." The court noted that the records relied upon by the district court were certified, signed, and produced by the court of conviction. Even without the "authorized signature" they would have been sufficient. The court also rejected Farrior's argument that his sentence was unreasonable, noting that the life sentence was mandatory.

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