Thursday, July 01, 2021

Evidence Sufficient to Sustain Drug Conspiracy Conviction – But Not By Much

 US v. Moody: Moody and his codefendant, Carter, were in a car that was stopped by police. Before the car came to a stop, the officer saw Moody, in the passenger’s seat, reach behind the driver’s seat twice. The officer found cash and a cell phone on Moody, another phone on Carter, as well as firearms under each front seat of the car and a bag behind the driver’s seat with drugs and other paraphernalia. The defendants were charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, possession with intent to distribute and possession of firearms in connection with a drug trafficking offense, with Moody additionally charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. They were convicted on all counts.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the defendants’ convictions. Their primary argument was that there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. As to the possession of the drugs, the court held that while there were “potentially innocent explanations” for the evidence against Moody, a “reasonable jury could have inferred” that Moody was in the area to sell drugs and that the case was proceeds of those sales. Likewise, the evidence of possession against Carter was sufficient as “if a factfinder determines that a driver had dominion and control over a vehicle, that is sufficient to establish constructive possession of contraband hidden in that vehicle.” The court also found sufficient evidence to sustain the firearm convictions. As to the conspiracy conviction, however, the court, while ultimately affirming the convictions, noted that “we reach this conclusion reluctantly” and noted “the unfortunate breadth of our modern conspiracy law” and the practice of indicting defendants for both conspiracy and the object of the conspiracy where there was little evidence beyond the facts supporting the underlying offense. It was not an “overwhelming” case, but it was enough.

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