United States v. Zayas (3rd Cir. April 2022)

The Federal Docket

May 16, 2022

Following a jury trial, Louis Antonio Zayas was convicted of several drug distribution offenses in connection with the overdose death of a woman who had been eight months pregnant. He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of life imprisonment.

Reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, the Third Circuit upheld most of Zayas’ convictions, but vacated his conviction for distribution of a controllable substance within 1,000 feet of a daycare center with an attached outdoor playground in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The court held that the fact that the facility in question meets the definition of “playground” given by § 860(e)(1) must be proven as an element of this offense. In coming to this conclusion, the Third Circuit joined the approach of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits.

Here, since the jury was never given the statutory definition at all, the evidence could not be sufficient, and the error was not harmless.

Appeal from the Middle District of Pennsylvania
Opinion by McKee, joined by Smith and Restrepo

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.

Scroll to Top