Drug Offenses

The Federal Docket

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.

United States v. Matthew Beaudion (5th Cir. November 2020)

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s holding that defendant lacked Fourth Amendment standing to challenge law enforcement’s search for the GPS location of girlfriend’s cell phone while he was with her. While the boyfriend had purchased the phone before giving it to his girlfriend, knew the password, used the phone frequently, and accessed his Facebook account on the phone, the Court held that he did not have a reasonable expectation in the phone because the girlfriend carried it throughout the day, the defendant never used it outside her presence, and her parents paid the bill. The Court further held that Carpenter did not apply here because law enforcement was trying to determine the girlfriend’s location, not the defendant’s.

United States v. John Gayden (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant doctor’s conviction and sentence for operating a “pill mill.” Among other things, the Court held that a physician does not have standing to challenge the search of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program because they do not have a privacy interest in their prescriptions. The Court also held that dismissal of the indictment, obtained five years after the defendant’s clinic shut down, was not warranted because the defendant could prove prejudice but not that the government engaged in any deliberative conduct to gain a tactical advantage over him.

United States v. Lindon Amede (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction of a defendant in a drug conspiracy case. The Court held that recorded hearsay statements between an unindicted co-conspirator and an undercover agent were admissible against the defendant where the exsitence of a conspiracy was proved by the co-conspirator discussing drug transactions with the undercover, saying he would send “my guy” to the undercover to conduct business,” and the defendant showing up to conduct transactions as discussed. The Court also held that drug offenses under 841(a)(1) do not require willfullness, that the district court did not err in precluding the defendant from presenting a duress defense, and the district court did not err in allowing the defendant to represent himself at sentencing.

Election Results: States Continuing to Roll Back the War on Drugs

Voters in Oregon voted to decriminalize hard drugs like cocaine and heroin while providing significant funding for treatment. Voters in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota passed measures reforming marijuana laws, including recreational and medical marijuana.

Criminal Justice Reform on the 2020 Ballot

The Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University has compiled a list of criminal justice ballot measures in the 2020 election, by state and by type of reform, to inform voters of what drug reform initiatives or criminal justice reforms are on the ballot in their states. The article lists, for example, Arizona as the only state where possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony and where voters can vote to legalize recreational weed after the initiative barely failed in 2016. The article also lists measures in California to allow certain felons to vote and reform cash bail. Oregon, on the other hand, will have a ballot measure giving residents the power to decriminalize possession of any kind of drug.

Scroll to Top