Friday, March 09, 2012

Defendant Fails to Meet Safety Valve Burden

US v. Aidoo: Aidoo was caught at Baltimore-Washington International Airport coming into the country with nearly 1 kilogram of heroin inside him. He made a proffer to investigators about the man who paid him to smuggle the heroin and other aspects of the scheme. Investigators told Aidoo that they did not think he was being truthful. Aidoo pleaded guilty to importing heroin, pursuant to a plea agreement in which the Government noted its intention to argue that Aidoo did not qualify for a "safety valve" reduction at sentencing. Nonetheless, the probation officer in the PSR did award Aidoo a safety valve reduction, to which the Government did not object until its sentencing memo was filed. The resulting advisory Guideline range was 57-71 months (without the safety valve, Aidoo was subject to a 60-month mandatory minimum).

At sentencing, the Government argued that Aidoo had not been truthful with them, particularly in claiming that this was his first time smuggling drugs. In addition, he never identified his contact in the US and his explanation for his extensive overseas travel was not plausible. Aidoo argued he had been truthful, but "counsel presented no evidence to support Aidoo's story." The district court agreed with the Government, concluded Aidoo had not been truthful and therefore did not qualify for the safety valve, and sentenced him to the mandatory minimum of 60 months.

On appeal, Aidoo argued that the district court erred by concluding he did not qualify for the safety valve. The Fourth Circuit disagreed and affirmed his sentence. It noted that the burden of proving safety valve qualification rests with the defendant and rejected Aidoo's argument that because he provided information to the Government the burden shifted to the Government to prove its falsity. Because Aidoo's proffer was so lacking in credibility, no burden shifting occurred. Although Aidoo did provide information to the Government, he did not testify, nor did he introduce documentation or other evidence to support his version of events. Given the evidence in the record, Aidoo had not met his burden. Furthermore, the district court's consideration of the Government's arguments, given its failure to object to the PSR's recommendation until it filed its sentencing memorandum, was not plain error.

Judge Gregory dissented, arguing that Aidoo had met his burden of proof and should have been awarded safety valve status.

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