United States v. William Wheat, Jr. (11th Cir. February 12, 2021)

The Federal Docket

March 5, 2021

Drug Offenses/Conspiracy – Establishing a buyer-seller transaction is insufficient to prove a conspiracy to distribute.

The Court reversed a defendant’s conviction for drug conspiracy under 21 USC 846 based on insufficient evidence. The Court held that a conspiracy to distribute drugs requires more than a mere buyer-seller transaction.

In Wheat’s case, the evidence only established that Wheat had contacted the main leader of the drug trafficking operation and let him know he had some heroin the leader may be interested in, Wheat met with him and gave him a .3 gram sample, and the leader gave the sample to a “taster” to determine the quality. The leader did not end up buying heroin from Wheat.

The Court engaged in a lengthy discussion of the elements of conspiracy and the buyer-seller exception, but concluded that the mere transfer of drugs from one party to another is not enough to establish a conspiracy. While this may constitute unlawful distribution, an agreement sufficient to establish a conspiracy would require evidence that the parties agreed on a broader purpose to distribute. The Court also noted that the fact that a sample was given and there was not an actual sale further undermined the finding of conspiracy, since it was not an agreement to do business but rather an offer.

Appeal from the Northern District of Ohio
Opinion by Murphy, joined by Sutton and Bush

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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