Drug Offenses

United States v. Calvin McReynolds (6th Cir. July 2020)

The Sixth Circuit vacated the defendant’s sentence for drug conspiracy and remanded it to the sentencing court after the court held the defendant accountable for a higher drug quantity than the jury did at trial, which the defendant argued violated his Sixth Amendment claim. The court held that the sentencing court did not adequately explain its reasoning, so it could not review the constitutionality of the defendant's claim.

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United States v. Michael Pedro Andres (11th Cir. June 2020)

The Court held that the district court did not err in refusing to consider the defendant's untimely motion to suppress, since the defendant's failure was based on a strategic decision. Moreover, the sentencing court did not err in refusing to grant a downward departure for acceptance of responsibility where the defendant challenge his factual guilt throughout the proceedings and at trial.

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Fed’s Effort to Combat Opioid Crisis Hits Walmart, other Pharmacies

This month saw new signs that the federal government is escalating its war on the opioid epidemic. First, ProPublica reported on new developments in a lawsuit against Walmart and other companies that revealed that Walmart has been hiding that the company was previously under criminal investigation regarding its opioid dispensing practices. The lawyers representing the plaintiffs, which includes states, counties, and municipalities, filed a motion for sanctions based on Walmart’s failure to disclose this investigation, which included efforts by the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas to bring criminal charges before the DOJ intervened. The ProPublica includes several other examples of Walmart’s obstruction and evidentiary abuses.

On a smaller scale, the U.S. announced that a pharmacy in Charlottesville entered a settlement with the federal government regarding its violations of the Controlled Substances Act. Meadowbrook Health Services agreed to pay the U.S. $330,000 to settle federal enforcement actions revolving around allegations that the pharmacy unlawfully dispenses controlled substances on at least 33 occasions. The feds also entered into another pharmacy in Mingo County, West Virginia over similar allegations.

The latest news regarding these federal enforcement efforts suggests that we have moved beyond charging only street dealers and doctors with drug distribution offenses and that the feds are now targeting retailer pharmacies that dispense too many opioids. It’s also clear that no pharmacy will be overlooked by its size, from giant retailers like Walmart to mom and pop operations like the one in Charlottesville and Mingo County. Whether the feds will increase their efforts to pursue criminal charges against these operations, however, remains to be seen.

Click here to read the ProPublica article regarding the Walmart litigation.

Click here to read about the pharmacy in Charlottesville and Mingo County.

United States v. Johnny Benjamin, Jr. (11th Cir. May 2020)

The Court affirmed the conviction of a doctor charged with manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance analogue resulting in a woman's overdose death. The Court affirmed his conviction on the death count based on expert testimony, co-defendant testimony, and circumstantial evidence, and the Court held that the district court had sufficiently instructed the jury on scienter based on the defendant's knowledge of the identity of the substance. Nor did the trial court err in declining to investigate juror misconduct based on finding a list of "Do's and Don'ts of Jury Deliberations" in the deliberation room.

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United States v. Bernard Moore, et al. (11th Cir. March 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit rejected a number of challenges in affirming the defendants' sentences for drug trafficking and unlawful possession of firearms, holding that the district court did not plainly err in shackling the defendants during trial without stating its reasons in the record and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in interviewing jurors in camera regarding their safety concerns and summarizing those interviews for the parties. The Court also concluded that the indictments failure to allege the defendants' mens rea as required under Rehaif v. United States did not deprive the court of jurisdiction and the plain error of convicting the defendants of unlawful possession of firearm did not warrant reversal where the government would have been able to prove their knowledge.

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