Drug Offenses

The Federal Docket

DEA Releases its “National Drug Threat Assessment” for 2020

The DEA has released its “National Drug Threat Assessment” for the Year 2020. The report contains an exhaustive review of topics such as the different sources for different drugs imported into the U.S., the price and purity levels of several controlled substances, data regarding where most drugs are trafficked or seized, consumption patterns, and other information that can be helpful to defense attorneys in drug cases.

United States v. Tony Dewayne Williams (6th Cir. March 2021)

The Sixth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence which was enhanced based on a prior felony conviction under Tennessee law involving marijuana. The Court held that the sentencing court erred in enhancing the defendant’s sentence based on that conviction because the Tennessee law at issue included hemp under the definition of marijuana, while hemp was distinguishable and legal under federal law. Therefore, the Tennessee conviction was not a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines. However, since the defendant had only objected generally at sentencing and did not articulate grounds for his objection, plain error review applied, and the sentencing court’s error here were not clear or obvious given the complexity of the issue.

United States v. Precias Freeman (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit vacated a drug defendant’s sentence for two reasons. First, it held that, despite there having been no hearing where sentencing counsel testified, the record was sufficient to establish that defendant received ineffective assistance when her counsel waived meritorious objections to the guidelines that would have resulted in a lower range and where he put his efforts into getting her in a drug program despite not knowing the program’s requirements for admission. The Court also held that the defendant’s 17-year sentence was substantively unreasonable where the sentencing court failed to consider her severe opioid addiction and that her sentence was significantly longer than those of similarly-situated defendants across the country.

United States v. Tremayne Drakeford (4th Cir. March 2021)

The Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of defendant’s suppression motion. The officers had conducted a stop and frisk of the defendant at a store, and found drugs, after receiving information from an informant, witnessing the defendant during two suspected drug interactions, and seeing the defendant meet another person outside the store and engage in two handshakes, which the officers believed was a hand-to-hand drug deal despite not seeing drugs or money change hands. The Court held this was not enough to establish reasonable suspicion because the information from the informant was generalized, there was little testimony regarding the informant’s reliability, the officers had not seen any drugs or found any drugs relating to the two interactions they previously witnessed the defendant in, and the two handshakes were not suspicious where the defendant was outside a store in broad daylight and otherwise not acting suspiciously. The Court warned that “the Fourth Amendment does not allow the Government to label a person as a drug dealer and then view all of their actions through that lens.”

United States v. Simha Furaha (9th Cir. March 2021)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence after the defendant challenged the district court’s application of an enhancement based on the defendant’s prior conviction under 924(c), which the sentencing court considered a “controlled substance offense” warranting an enhancement. The Court held that a sentencing court may apply the modified categorical approach to determine whether a defendant’s underlying “drug trafficking crime” under 924(c) was a “controlled substance offense” under 4B1.2.

United States v. Arman Abovyan (11th Cir. Feb. 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a doctor-defendant’s conviction for healthcare fraud and dispensing controlled substances unlawfully. The Court held that there was sufficient evidence tying him to the conspiracy based in part on his allowing a medically non-trained co-conspirator to mandate testing requirements, and the Court also found sufficient evidence of unlawful dispensation based on the government expert’s testimony. The Court also held that the district court did not err in using the intended loss amount at sentencing, despite using the lower actual loss amount for the defendant’s co-conspirators, since there was no “unwarranted” disparity given that the co-conspirators had been sentenced according to a plea agreement, and the defendant had not.

United States v. Jose Antonio Morales (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction after he challenged a search warrant that led to his arrest and conviction for marijuana distribution and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Court held that, even if the search warrant was not supported by probable cause based on officers finding small quantities of marijuana in the defendant’s trash, the good faith exception applied. The Court also reiterated that a failure to allege the knowledge element for a 922(g) charge under Rehaif does not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.

United States v. William Wheat, Jr. (11th Cir. February 12, 2021)

The Sixth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to distribute where the defendant had only contacted the leader of a DTO and given him a sample of heroin. The Court held that “the mere transfer of drugs,” including a buyer-seller transaction, was standing alone insufficient to establish an agreement to further distribute drugs.

United States v. Latecia Watkins (11th Cir. December 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s suppression order, holding that even though the officers had violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights by monitoring a tracking device that was in her home, there was a “reasonable probability” that the agents would have eventually conducted a knock and talk at her residence and been able to discover the tracker anyway.

United States v. Otto Taylor (11th Cir. December 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s holding that a defendant was ineligible for a sentence reduction under Section 404 of the First Step Act, which made retroactive reduced mandatory minimums for crack cocaine offenses. The Court held that a defendant who has a “covered offense” is eligible for a reduction even if he was charged with other drugs that trigger the same statutory sentencing range.

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