Monday, June 05, 2017

Double Jeopardy Prevents Charge In Larger Conspiracy After Guilty Plea to Smaller One

US v. Jones: Jones pleaded guilty to an information in 2012 in the Eastern District of Virginia charging him with a drug conspiracy that ran from July to August 2012. He was sentenced to 135 months in prison. In 2014, he was indicted in the Western District of Virginia for a drug conspiracy that ran from 1998 to 2012. Jones moved to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. The district court denied the motion. Although the two conspiracies involved some of the same people (and the same drug), the 2012 conviction was based on a discrete delivery of drugs and thus could be differentiated from the 14-year conspiracy charged in the 2014 indictment.

The Fourth Circuit reversed in an interlocutory appeal. Double jeopardy prohibits the Government from "dividing one overarching conspiracy into two separate counts." To determine if the two conspiracies are separate, the court looks to the entirety of the record and evaluates a totality of the circumstances. After noting that the Government did not dispute the district court's finding that Jones mad a "non-frivolous" argument that the conspiracies overlapped, the court concluded that for each of the five factors it analyzed "the Government has failed at every turn to prove separate and distinct conspiracies." Rather, "the Government has identified one large conspiracy to traffic cocaine." The court also identified the Government's argument that there was no double jeopardy issue because the second conspiracy had an "expanded scope, a broader reach, and a different object" as having a "glaring, fundamental flaw" that "misconstrues our double jeopardy precedent." In such cases the court looks to the degree of overlap between the charges, not the degree of similarity.

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