Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Defendant's Appeal Brings Successful Government Cross Appeal

US v. Young: Young was the subject of an investigation that led to the execution of an arrest warrant at his home. Police executed the warrant, arrested Young, and saw some drugs in plain view. They obtained a search warrant and eventually recovered a large amount of cash and cocaine. Young moved to suppress that evidence, arguing that the police failed to knock and announce their presence before entering his home. The district court disagreed and denied the motion. Young went to trial and was convicted of two drug offenses by a jury, which returned a special verdict form concluding that Young was responsible for between 500 grams and 5 kilograms of cocaine. The PSR, however, held him responsible for between 50 and 150 kilograms of cocaine. At sentencing, the district court went with the jury's finding, concluding it was bound by it and imposed a sentence in the middle of the resulting Guideline range.

Young appealed both his conviction and sentence and the Government cross appealed on the sentence. The Fourth Circuit affirmed Young's conviction, but vacated his sentence. As to the conviction, the court first affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to suppress. The court rejected Young's argument that the police should have waited longer for a response after knocking. In a footnote, the court rejected the Government's invitation to conclude that the Supreme Court's decision in Hudson, which held that suppression was not an appropriate remedy for knock and announce violations in the execution of a search warrant, also applied to the execution of arrest warrants. Next, the court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to sustain Young's convictions.

As to sentencing, the court rejected Young's arguments as all foreclosed by circuit precedent. The Government's cross appeal, however, was another matter. The Government argued that the district court erred by concluding that the jury's findings as to drug quantity bound it at sentencing, aside from setting the applicable statutory maximum/minimums. The court agreed. Even though the jury's findings were that of a "lesser included offense" of the 5 kilogram amount alleged in the indictment, that finding did not bind the district court. The district court was free to evaluate drug quantity at sentencing as it could with any acquitted conduct. The fact that the Government chose not to present all its drug quantity evidence at trial was irrelevant (the Government did present evidence at sentencing that the district court concluded would support a higher Guideline range). Therefore, the sentence was vacated and the case remanded.

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