Monday, January 24, 2011

Failure to Disclose Non-Witness Grand Jury Testimony Requires New Trial

US v. King: King was convicted of drug and firearm offenses arising from two separate incidents in North Carolina. In the first, officers surveiled a car that a tipster said was going to be used to transport heroin. Officers followed the car to a laundromat where the two men in the car went inside. They returned shortly thereafter, along with King, who put a green gym bag in the car. The car was stopped and the bag searched. It contained "100 dosage units of heroin." King, and the other two men, was arrested. A search of King's home uncovered more heroin, other drug paraphernalia, and a firearm. King admitted ownership of the heroin and the firearm. He was charged and released on bail. Eight months later, a man named Bilal, who shared an apartment with King, told officers that King kidnapped and assaulted him. Officers executed a search warrant at the apartment, recovering drugs and a firearm from a bedroom, in which they also found documentation with King's address. King denied doing anything to Bilal and also denied ownership of any of the items found in the apartment.

King was charged with six counts - two sets of three for each incident: possession with intent to distribute, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense. Prior to trial, King moved to have the Government disclose information related to Bilal's cooperation with them, including his grand jury testimony. The district court denied the request without reviewing the testimony. At trial, King testified in line with his statements to police - accepting ownership of the items related to the first incident, but denying ownership of those in the second incident - but added that the firearms were not related to any drug activity. The jury convicted him on four counts, all three from the first incident and being a felon in possession from the second. The district court sentenced him to 408 months in prison (enhanced, in part, based on the alleged kidnapping of Bilal).

King raised several challenges to his convictions on appeal. With regards to the three convictions related to the first incident, the Fourth Circuit rejected his arguments and upheld those convictions. Specifically, the court held that the drug and firearm-in-connection-with-a-trafficking offenses were duplicitous, that the firearm count failed to charge him with an offense, and that the evidence on each count was insufficient to convict him. However, with regards to the felon in possession conviction from the second incident, the court did find error that required reversal of that conviction. Specifically, the court held that the district court erred by failing to order the Government to turn over Bilal's grand jury testimony, even though he did not testify at trial, because his relationship with King was relevant to King's defense. The court noted that King had consistently denied that any of the items found during the second search belonged to him.

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