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

The Federal Docket

Drug Offenses/Indictments – An indictment includes the essential elements of an offense under § 846 if the government is required to prove an agreement to violate drug laws, the defendant’s knowledge of the agreement, and that the defendant knowingly entering the agreement.

Drug Offenses/Jury Instructions – If an indictment sufficiently charges the elements of an offense, despite not explicitly listing them, the jury instructions that refer to the non-stated elements do not constructively amend the indictment.

Sentencing Guidelines/Drug Quantity – A district court must adequately explain its reasoning if it attributes any drug amount to a defendant beyond the jury’s verdict.

Calvin McReynolds, Jr. was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. A jury attributed “‘less than 100 grams’ of heroin and ‘less than 500 grams’ of cocaine” to McReynolds. He was sentenced to 151 months’ imprisonment and 60 months of supervised release. When calculating McReynolds’ sentence, the district court attributed “over 750 grams of heroin, over 700 grams of cocaine, and over 250 grams of cocaine” to McReynolds and included drugs acknowledged by his codefendants’ plea agreements.

McReynolds appealed his conviction and sentence, first arguing “that his indictment was insufficient for failing to include every element of the charged offense” and “that the jury instructions constructively amended the indictment.” Specifically, McReynolds argued that the indictment failed to allege that he “knowingly and intentionally agreed” to join a conspiracy to violate federal drug laws.

The Court disagreed, holding that there was no clear and obvious error in McReynolds’ indictment because it “include[d] the essential elements of the offense” by requiring the defendant’s knowledge of the agreement and knowingly joining the agreement. Moreover, the indictment cited the correct statute, thus providing McReynolds with sufficient notice. Indeed, McReynolds’ main defense at trial was that he did not knowingly join the conspiracy, indicating he was aware of the elements charged. The Court also noted that, because McReynolds did not raise issue about his indictment before the district court, the indictment was only reviewed for plain error and construed in favor of sufficiency.

The Court further held that the jury instructions did not constructively amend McReynolds’ indictment because the indictment was sufficiently charged. The jury instructions contained language requiring a finding that McReynolds “knowingly and intentionally agreed” to join a conspiracy, but this language was not materially different than the language in the indictment.

Regarding McReynolds’ sentence, however, Court held that the district court erred when it “used the conspiracy-wide drug amounts that were acknowledged in some of McReynolds’ codefendants’ plea agreements in order to hold McReynolds accountable for those amounts.” McReynolds had argued that the sentencing court violated his Sixth Amendment rights by holding him accountable for conduct he was acquitted of. The Court held that, because the district court “did not say why it was holding McReynolds accountable for [the] higher amounts, even though McReynolds objected,” McReynolds sentence had to be vacated and the Court could not review the constitutionality of his sentence. Accordingly, the Court remanded for resentencing.

Judge Griffin dissented in part, arguing that the Court should not address the sentencing issue because prior circuit precedent established that a judge may consider acquitted conduct in imposing a sentence, and the parties had not raised the issue of whether a district court must “adequately explain” its consideration of acquitted conduct.

Appeal from the Eastern District of Michigan

Opinion by Clay, joined by Daughtrey and Griffin in part. Concurrence in

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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