Drug Offenses

The Federal Docket

United States v. James Braddy (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence from a traffic stop. The Court held that the officer’s mistaken interpretation of Alabama traffic law was reasonable, the officer did not unlawfully prolong the stop by asking the driver about his plans and itinerary or allowing his dog to sniff near the car, and there was probable cause to search the vehicle based on the dog’s change in behavior near the car, though the dog did not give a “final response” indicating the presence of drugs.

United States v. Hannah Patch (1st Cir. August 2021)

The First Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence for maintaining a drug involved premises. The Court held that the district court erred in applying the higher offense level under USSG 2D1.8(a) because there was insufficient evidence that the defendant had participated in the underlying drug offense beyond providing her apartment to her boyfriend as a place to sell and store drugs. The fact that she knew about his drug activities and accompanied him on some of his trips to resupply, standing alone, were not enough to show she participated.

United States v. Lillian Akwuba (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a nurse practitioner’s convictions for drug conspiracy and healthcare fraud in a “pill mill” case. The Court held there was sufficient evidence to convict her of the drug offenses despite the government’s failure to provide any patient testimony that the prescription medications they received were unnecessary, and it affirmed her conviction for healthcare fraud based on her knowledge and participation in filing claims to government programs for office visits where patients received illegal prescriptions. The Court held that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the parties had stipulated to disputed fact, but held this did not amount to an improper directed verdict or deprive the defendant of her defense because the instruction did not relate to an element of the charged offense or any of the facts necessary to establish one of those elements, and the defendant was still able to present her theory of defense. The Court also rejected the defendant’s evidentiary claims.

United States v. Kelvin Harris and James Archibald (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the defendants’ convictions for drug and firearm offenses in a case involving a “reverse sting police corruption case.” The defendants were two officers who worked with other corrupt officers to provide armed protection to undercover agents acting as drug dealers. Among other things, the Court held that the evidence was sufficient to convict them notwithstanding their entrapment defenses, the trial court did not plainly err in failing to inform the jury that it was entitled to a “read-back” of one of the defendant’s trial testimony, and the defendants failed to establish a prima facie case of a Batson violation.

Sentencing Commission Stats Show Steady Drop in Federal Prosecutions for Marijuana Trafficking

The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently released statistics reflecting trends in federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking. The stats reflect that, since 2016, the number of federal marijuana trafficking cases has significantly and consistently decreased. The stats also broke down the number of offenders in BOP custody for marijuana, how many received downward variances, and other trends.

United States v. Jerry Sanchez Carrasquillo (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence. The Court held that the district court had failed to elicit objections before pronouncing sentence, but the record was sufficient on appeal so remand was not necessary. Regarding the merits, the Court held that the district court had properly applied the enhancement for firearm possession under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) and denied safety valve relief under 5C1.2. While a defendant can still qualify for the safety valve even though the firearm enhancement applies, the defendant here did not meet the requirement for safety valve because the district court found his firearm was “definitely connected” to his drug offense.

United States v. Katie Boll (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence and the sentencing court’s application of the enhancement for an offense involving a “large number” of vulnerable victims. The Court held that the defendant’s actions in stealing pain medication from 14 patients warranted the application where the district court found that this was a “large number” relative to similar offenses.

United States v. Andrew Sarchett (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence for distributing methamphetamine based on the sentencing court improperly calculating the defendant’s drug quantity. The Court held that drugs found in the defendant’s girlfriend’s car should not have been included in the defendant’s total drug quantity where the additional quantity was based solely on a stipulation in the plea agreement that the girlfriend had made certain statements about the drugs. The stipulation did not establish that her statements were true, and there was no additional evidence tying the defendant to the drugs.

DOJ Announces Support for Scaling Back Crack-Cocaine Sentencing Disparities

Late last month, the Department of Justice submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate “urging Congress to pass legislation to permanently end the sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The DOJ stated that the sentencing disparity, established in the 1980s, was based on “misguided policy” and “misinformation.” The DOJ further noted that 87.5% of people in federal prison serving time for crack offenses were black. Senator Grassley issued a written statement in support of reforming federal drug laws but criticized the DOJ for not providing a live witness.

United States v. Laneesha Colston (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s drug convictions after she was arrested picking up a package for someone that contained cocaine. The Court held that, notwithstanding the Government’s concession at trial to the contrary, the government only had to prove that the defendant knew the package contained some kind of controlled substance, not the specific type alleged in the indictment. Here, the Court held there was sufficient circumstantial evidence proving the defendant knew there were illegal drugs in the package. The Court also declined to review whether sufficient evidence supported the deliberate ignorance instruction and held the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of the defendant’s unrelated illegal pill sales under Rule 404(b).

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