Monday, June 08, 2009

Evidence Not Sufficient for Enhanced Statutory Drug Penalties

US v. Kellam: Kellam and his codefendant were convicted on multiple drug counts and, on appeal, each alleged multiple errors at trial. Although the Fourth Circuit affirmed their convictions, the court vacated Kellam's life sentence.

That sentence was imposed after the Government filed an information under 21 USC 851 alleging Kellam had prior convictions that made her eligible for an enhanced sentence. In response to the 851 information, Kellam disputed both of the alleged prior convictions and argued that the Government and not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she had been convicted of them. The Government produced certified copies of the criminal dockets in the two cases, which the district court concluded proved the convictions.

On appeal, the Fourth concluded that it was "unable to conclude" that the Government had met its burden of proof with regards to the prior convictions. The district court made no finding, and the Government made no effort to prove, that Kellam was the same person named in the documents showing the prior convictions. No photographic or fingerprint evidence was produced to link Kellam with the prior convictions. In addition, the district court failed to ask Kellam at the hearing whether she affirmed or denied that she had been previously convicted. In summary, the court concluded that it was possible, "or perhaps probable," that Kellam was convicted of the prior offenses, but such speculation does not satisfy the burden the Government has to prove that fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

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