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

The Federal Docket

November 10, 2020

Evidence – There was sufficient evidence of a conspiracy to allow hearsay statements made by a co-conspirator to an undercover officer where the co-conspirator refers to the defendant as “my guy,” tells the undercover he will send his “guy” to a location to conduct drug transactions, and the defendant shows up for the transactions as discussed.

Sixth Amendment – The district court did not abuse its discretion in precluding the defendant from presenting a duress defense where the defendant had traveled t the US multiple times during the investigation and before the controlled drug buy and thus could not prove he did not have a reasonable opportunity to escape or inform authorities.

Drug Offenses – A conviction under 841(a)(1) does not require that the defendant act “willfully.”

Lindon Amede was convicted of drug offenses and sentenced to 121 months in prison. On appeal, Amede raised several arguments, including that the trial court erred in introducing calls between Chang, Amede’s unindicted co-conspirator in Trinidad, and an undercover officer negotiating a drug deal. The Government’s case was that Amede acted as an intermediary between Chang and the undercover officer, while Amede contended at trial that he used his own money to pay for the cocaine and that he had acted under duress from Chang’s threats (he alleged Chang was part of a terrorist group in Trinidad).

The Eleventh Circuit held that the trial court properly admitted the calls because the government had sufficiently proved the existence of a conspiracy between Chang and Amede at the time the calls occurred, thus not inadmissible hearsay. The Government had produced evidence that Chang had referred to Amede as “my guy” when negotiating a drug transaction with the undercover officer, and that Amede was who showed up in Fort Lauderdale when Chang said his “guy” would be there. Amede also stated to law enforcement that he worked with Chang, had numerous calls and messages with him, and cooperated with law enforcement against Chang.

The Court also rejected Amede’s argument that the district court constructively amended the indictment when it instructed the jury that it had to find Amede “knowingly” attempted to possess the cocaine, omitting the word “willfully.” The Court held that the Government was not required to prove willfullness, and noted that the pattern jury instructions for 841(a)(1) had eliminated “willfully” because 841(a) did not use that word.

The Court also rejected Amede’s argument that he was not allowed to present a complete duress defense at trial, as the district court had limited his cross-examination of one agent’s failure to record Amede’s post-arrest and cooperation and Amede’s own testimony regarding those matters. The Court found that Amede could not establish the defense because he failed the third prong, which requires that a defendant acting under duress show he “had no reasonable opportunity to escape or inform the police.” Amede had visited the U.S. several times during the investigation prior to the controlled buy and had never contacted any U.S. law enforcement. Moreover, the Court held that even if the court did abuse its discretion in limiting Amede’s duress defense, it was harmless because Amede’s counsel still elicited the sought testimony during the trial.

The Court also reviewed other challenges, including a right to counsel at sentencing. Amede had rejected court-appointed counsel and fired his retained counsel. The court gave him several opportunities at sentencing to consult with his retained counsel, who was present, and had delayed the sentencing on two occasions. The Court held that Amede’s waiver of counsel was knowing and intelligent under the circumstances.

Appeal from the Southern District of Florida

Opinion by Hull, joined by W. Pryor and Tjoflat

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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