Monday, June 07, 2010

Evidence Sufficient to Sustain Conspiracy to Kill Informant

US v. Ashley: Ashley shared an attorney with Caruso, who had been arrested and charged with drug offenses. When they were both at their attorney's office, Ashley overheard Caruso complaining about Dixon, who had allegedly been arrested and then provided testimony against Caruso. Caruso said he "would love to be able to discredit, you know, dismantle a witness against me." Caruso provided Ashley with a copy of his case file. Ashley then told an associate about Caruso's "problem down in Baltimore," after which the associate went and shot Dixon six times (he survived, "albeit with permanent debilitating injuries"). Caruso paid Ashley $10,000, half of which he passed to the shooter. Ashley was charged with conspiring to kill a witness, conspiring to kill an informant for providing information to law enforcement, and use of a firearm under 924(c). He was convicted on all counts.

On appeal, Ashley challenged his convictions for conspiring to kill an informant and the firearm offense, both of which the Fourth Circuit affirmed. As to the first, Ashley argued that the evidence was insufficient to show he knew that Caruso wanted Dixon killed as retaliation for giving information to law enforcement. Specifically, there was no evidence that Ashley knew Dixon was a government informant or that, if he was, he had provided information to federal officers. The court disagreed, holding that the "fabric of evidence" in the case showed that "Ashley knew exactly what Caruso was willing to pay for and precisely what Caruso wanted done." Secondly, Ashley argued that the district court's jury instructions, which were echoed by the Government in its closing arguments, constructively amended the indictment by omitting the "during and in relation to" language from the instructions. The court disagreed, holding that the instructions did not impermissibly broaden the bases upon which he could be convicted. The court also concluded that the district court's instruction that Ashley could be convicted based on Pinkerton coconsipirator liability was not error, analogizing it to aider/abetter liability, which is not required to be specifical charged in an indictment.

No comments: