Thursday, June 18, 2009

Court Affirms Drug, Gun Convictions Against Multiple Claims of Error

US v. Jeffers: Jeffers was involved with crack distribution in western Virginia. After a three-day trial, he was convicted of conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack and carrying a firearm in connection with that offense. He was sentenced to a total of 302 months in prison. He raised several challenges on appeal to his conviction and sentence, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected.

First, Jeffers argued that his due process rights were violated when certain proceedings were held but not transcribed by the court reporter, particularly the charge conference. While noting that Jeffers had a due process right to an appeal with a complete transcript, the court concluded that there is no requirement that the charge conference be held in open court and that counsel had ample opportunity to make any objections to the jury instructions on the record.

Second, Jeffers argued that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the firearm conviction. The court noted that several witnesses linked Jeffers to firearms in relation to drug trafficking and concluded that, in the light most favorable to the Government, the evidence was sufficient.

Third, Jeffers raised several instructional errors relating to the conspiracy charge, including the failure to give a multiple conspiracy instruction, giving an instruction allowing the inference of guilt from attempts to conceal himself after indictment, and the failure to instruct the jury to determine the amount of crack attributable to Jeffers. The court rejected all those argument on a plain error review, as none of them had been preserved at trial.

Fourth, Jeffers challenged two aspects of his sentence: the amount of crack attributed to him and the imposition of a $25,000 fine. The court held that the determination of relevant conduct was amply supported by the evidence in the record and that the fine was not imposed in retaliation for Jeffers not providing financial information to the probation officer on Fifth Amendment grounds.

Finally, Jeffers argued that the Government failed to abide by the discovery provisions in Rule 16 of the Rules of Criminal procedure in that it would not allow him to have copies of certain documents related to controlled buys in the case, although his counsel had access to them at the US Attorney's office. While concluding that the Government failed to abide by the terms of Rule 16, the court held that Jeffers failed to show how he was prejudiced and thus the error was harmless. The court also concluded that Jeffers was not entitled to an acquittal of his convictions under Brady for material that related to several other charges for which he was acquitted.

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