Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Court Tears Apart Factual Support for Heroin Convictions

US v. Blue: Baltimore cops were surveilling a potential drug operation that eventually brought them to Blue, who met briefly with the target of their surveillance and gave him a "brownish-tannish item." Blue walked away, while the target was arrested and found in possession of almost 50 grams of heroin. A month later investigators surveilled Blue himself, following him to an apartment complex which he entered, then exited five minutes later "holding a sandwich-sized, cloudy white container in his hand." Investigators followed Blue to another brief meeting then arrested him. Following his arrest, Blue admitted that the brief meeting had been to discuss a drug deal. Blue was found in possession of a key to an apartment in the complex where he had been followed earlier in the day, a search of which uncovered 108 grams of heroin. There was no indication that Blue lived in the apartment or had any connection to the people who did. Blue was charged and convicted at trial of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 grams of heroin (Count 1 - based on the first incident) and possession with intent to distribute more than 100 grams of heroin (Count 3 - based on the second incident).

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed both of Blue's convictions because there was insufficient evidence to support them. On Count 3, the court held that the fact that Blue possessed the key to the apartment where he (presumably - nobody saw which apartment he entered) stayed for five minutes was "insufficient evidence to establish his constructive possession of the heroin found" in the apartment. It rejected the Government inference that Blue used the apartment as a stash house as "an unreasonable one given the complete lack of evidence establishing any connection to any of the occupants." Nor was the "sandwich-sized plastic container" of any probative value, as it was never linked to heroin. The court also rejected the Government's reliance on an Eighth Circuit holding that someone in possession of a key to a dwelling has constructive possession of its contents. Count 1 suffered the same fate, as the only way the Government could reach the 100-gram threshold was to bring in the heroin seized from the apartment which, the court had already ruled, wasn't sufficiently tied to Blue.

Congrats to the Defender office in Maryland on the win!

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