Thursday, December 15, 2011

Convictions Affirmed for Drug Conspiracy (Barely), Scheme to Kill Witness

US v. Hackley: Hackley sold crack cocaine to Jackson, whom had known Hackley since 1992 and acted as a confidential informant almost as long. According to Jackson, Hackley told him he "just got back from Maryland" with some crack. Jackson then contacted local law enforcement, who arranged several controlled buys of crack from Hackley. As a result, he was charged with conspiracy to distribute crack and six counts of distribution. While in jail, Hackley told a fellow inmate, Johnson (among others), that he did not want Jackson showing up in court and that he needed to be killed. He also told Johnson about a pistol he owned. Johnson went to the authorities, after which an ATF agent posed as another inmate. The agent, essentially, became the hit man Hackley sought to hire to kill Jackson. In fact, Jackson's death was staged, complete with a fake news story, which made Hackley "ecstatic." As a result, Hackley was also charged with murder for hire, solicitation of murder, obstruction of justice, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

After a plea agreement broke down, Hackley moved that he be appointed new counsel. The district court declined and the case went to trial. The district court denied Hackley's request for an entrapment instruction on the murder for hire count. He was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 306 months in prison.

On appeal, Hackley challenged both his convictions and sentence, all of which the Fourth Circuit upheld. First, Hackley argued that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the convictions for conspiracy to distribute crack, solicitation to murder, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The evidence on the conspiracy count, the court held, "represents the very boundary of what passes for substantial evidence of a conspiracy." However, though the evidence was sparse, it was sufficient to "support an inference that Hackley had a continuous relationship with Maryland suppliers." The evidence was more abundant on the solicitation to murder count, although the communications at issue went to Hackley's "many girlfriends" rather than the ultimate "assassin." There was also sufficient evidence that Hackley possessed the firearm stored in the home of one of those many girlfriends. Second, Hackley argued that the district court should have given an entrapment instruction because the jury could have concluded that Johnson, rather than Hackley, began the conversation about killing Jackson. The court rejected that argument, noting that because Johnson was not a agent of the police at that time, it didn't matter who started the conversation. Third, Hackley argued that the felon in possession charge should have been severed from the rest of the counts. The court disagreed, noting that the gun at issue was offered as a potential tool for dealing with Jackson. Fourth, Hackley argued that the district court erred by denying his request for new counsel a week before the trial was to begin. The court rejected that argument, holding that Hackley never expressed concern about counsel's inadequacy, merely her "style," which was not a sufficient basis for granting the request. Finally, the court affirmed Hackley's sentence, holding that the district court was aware of its ability to impose a below-the-Guidelines sentence and exercised its discretion not to do so.

No comments: