Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cannot Exclude Personal Use in Determining Weight Involved in Conspiracy & Prior Testimony of Witness Admissible Since Trial Testimony Evasive

[This case summarized by Leo Latella.]

In United States v. Iglesias, 535 F.3d 150 (3d Cir. 2008) , the Court of Appeals held, in addressing two issues of first impression, that a defendant convicted of conspiring to distribute drugs is not entitled to exclude an amount for personal use in determining the total quantity of drugs involved in the conspiracy. Additionally, as a matter of first impression in this Circuit, the Court held that a witness’ prior testimony at a suppression hearing was admissible at trial under Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(1)(A), when his trial testimony was evasive on the same subject matter. Lastly, Court of Appeals rejected Iglesias’ contention that his drug conspiracy and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime were not supported by sufficient evidence.

Prior to Iglesias’ arrest, an individual who later became a cooperating witness was arrested and found with a small quantity of methamphetamine. The cooperator stated that he purchased the meth from Iglesias and made a recorded call arraigning to purchase more. Based on this information a warrant was obtained to search Iglesais’ home after which quantities of meth were found in various rooms and large quantities were found in his car. A semiautomatic handgun was found in his bedroom together with ammunition and a bag containing 2.7 grams of meth.

Iglesias filed a suppression motion prior to trial. At the suppression hearing, the cooperator testified that he bought methamphetamine from Igesais "once or twice" at Iglesias’ residence and that sometimes he did not pay Iglesais until he sold the meth to his own customers. The motion was denied. At trial, two days later, the cooperator became equivocal and in response to the prosecutor’s question as to where he obtained his meth stated "I can’t answer that question because it has been brought to my attention that charges may be brought against me." The district court then admitted the cooperator’s suppression hearing testimony regarding his dealings with Iglesias, who was later convicted on all counts.

On appeal, Iglesias first challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conspiracy conviction arguing that he and the cooperator had a mere buyer/seller relationship. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument holding that: "Although he purchased drugs from Iglesias ‘once or twice’ at Iglesias’ apartment, [cooperator] testified that Iglesias gave him drugs on credit and awaited payment until after [cooperator] had sold the drugs to his customers. This arrangement is sufficient evidence of a conspiracy. Also, the fact that Iglesias invited [cooperator] to Apartment A with drugs in plain view reflects a level of mutual trust consistent with a conspiracy." Id. at p. 156. Similarly, the Court rejected a sufficiency of the evidence challenge to the 924(c) conviction relying on the following factors to establish that the gun was possessed in furtherance of drug trafficking: "The Taurus was found-along with a loaded magazine-inside a briefcase in the office. In addition to the Taurus and the magazine, the briefcase held a large food saver bag that contained several hundred Ziploc® bags. The food saver bag was of the same type which had been used to store the drugs found in the Volvo, and the Ziploc® bags were identical to those which had been used to store methamphetamine in the kitchen of Apartment A. Given the proximity of the loaded magazine to the gun-and considering that the gun, magazine, and drug packaging paraphernalia all were stored together in the briefcase that was found in the same room as methamphetamine-a rational juror easily could have concluded that the gun was used "in furtherance of" Iglesias’ drug-trafficking activities within the meaning of [924(c)]." Id. at 157.

Iglesias next challenged the admission of the cooperator’s suppression hearing testimony. Since a proper objection to the testimony was not raised at trial, the Court reviewed the admission of the evidence for plain error. Under Rule 801(d)(1)(A), the cooperator’s suppression hearing testimony would be admissible at trial if his suppression hearing testimony was "inconsistent" with his trial testimony. Id. at p. 158. The Court of Appeals stated that the cooperator’s trial testimony "was as evasive and opaque as it was clear and straightforward at the suppression hearing." Id. at 159. Deciding an issue of first impression in this Circuit, the Court held that "where a witness demonstrates a manifest reluctance to testify and forgets certain facts at trial, this testimony can be inconsistent under Rule 801(d)(1)(A)."

Lastly, the Court rejected Iglesias’ argument that the amount of meth that he intended for personal use should have been deducted in calculating the total quantity of drugs involved in the conspiracy. The Court stated that while the amount of drugs possessed for personal use should ordinarily be deducted when a defendant is convicted of distribution, as a matter of first impression in this Circuit, a defendant convicted of conspiracy "is not entitled to exclude an amount for personal use in determining the total quantity of drugs involved in the conspiracy." Id. at 160.

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