Friday, March 28, 2014

Defendant appeals conviction; government cross-appeals forfeiture request rejection

US v. Blackman:  Khalil Blackman received two convictions after a bench trial for his part as the fence in an armed robbery conspiracy.  The other conspirators took pleas and agreed to cooperate with the Government.  He was convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery, and using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.  At sentencing, the district court imposed a restitution award of the value of the stolen goods (imposed jointly and severally with co-conspirators), but rejected the Government’s request for forfeiture in the same amount.  On appeal, Blackman challenged the sufficiency of the evidence; the Government cross-claimed, arguing the district court erred in denying its forfeiture request.

On appeal, Blackman argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, especially his conviction for carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, as he did not personally participate in the armed robberies; also, that the district court erred in basing its judgment on Pinkerton when the indictment did not mention that case.  The Fourth Circuit panel cited to an earlier case, U.S. v. Ashley, in which it held that it is not necessary for an indictment to mention Pinkerton in order for that case to serve as the basis for a conviction. Further, “when one reaps the benefits of a collective criminal enterprise, one should be prepared to accept collective consequences.”

With respect to the government’s cross-claim, the panel reversed the district court’s forfeiture ruling as unsupported by any legal authority.  According to statute, when the necessary prerequisites are met, forfeiture must be imposed; it is not a matter for judicial discretion.  Here, the necessary predicates had been met, and the Fourth Circuit determined that the district court erred when it decided to not order forfeiture.  The panel remanded this portion of the case back to the district court for the imposition of a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of the stolen goods.

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