Articles Tagged with Conspiracy

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Six new cases from the federal circuits this week. My favorite – a subjective measure, I know – is United States v. Ramirez. Any time a court, even the Ninth Circuit, vacates a drug conspiracy conviction for insufficient evidence it’s worth a read.

Last week I posted about a First Circuit case that raised, I thought, a specter of support for jury nullification. Lots of folks responded to that – it turns out that nullification is a popular topic.

On Twitter, I was directed to this recent opinion out of New Mexico on nullification. If you have time, I highly recommend it. It canvasses the history of nullification as an important part of what our criminal justice system is built on then says, basically, no.

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It seems that Rolando Ramos was a marijuana dealer. I say that because the police had him on a wire doing drug deals, found marijuana in his house when the executed a search warrant, and because he pled guilty to being involved in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

Mr. Ramos worked at a auto repair shop – which he dealt marijuana out of. One guy who worked at the repair shop had a brother in law who was a cop. The cop’s name is Carlos Burgos.

Mr. Burgos was convicted of being a part of Mr. Ramos’s drug distribution conspiracy. But the First Circuit, in United States v. Burgos, overturned that conviction because there wasn’t enough evidence.

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This week’s wins cover three circuits and four diverse areas of law.

Particularly interesting (to me) are the Fourth Circuit’s opinion holding that it may not be a crime to steal the identity of a corporation. It feels like corporate personhood and its limits are popping up in all sorts of ways these days.

The Eighth Circuit has an interesting jury instruction issue in a sexual assault case, and, remarkably, the First Circuit has a remand based on the sufficiency of the evidence in a marijuana conspiracy case. A good set of wins all around.

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Federal conspiracy law is a crazy thing.

It seems simple enough – a person is guilty of a federal criminal conspiracy if they agree with someone else to commit a federal crime and take some steps to carry out committing that crime.

But the agreement doesn’t have to be explicit – it can be inferred from the way people act. Sort of in the same way that when my daughter puts cookies in our shopping cart at the grocery store while I’m watching we have an agreement that we’re going to buy cookies.

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It’s another relatively slow week in the federal appeals courts of our great nation. Perhaps folks are too saturated with election coverage to issue opinions.

Of the three courts that issued opinions this week, only one is in a battleground states (or quasi battleground state) – the Tenth Circuit in Colorado.

The Eleventh Circuit based in Georgia and the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans surely are not drowning in direct mail pieces or television ads.

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It’s difficult not to love an opinion that contains this paragraph:

Heraclitus famously said that one never steps into the same river twice. What he meant was that one never steps into the same water; the river is the same, even though its substance is always changing. And so a conspiracy can be the same even if all the acts committed pursuant to it are different, because it is the terms of the agreement rather than the details of implementation that determine its boundaries.

Federal prosecutors love conspiracies more than Oliver Stone. Prove an agreement between A and B to further an illegal end, and you can bring in all sorts of stuff against A that she didn’t actually do (B did). And you only have to prove a constructive agreement – not an actual one.

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Federal conspiracy charges are challenging. What counts as a conspiracy is broad enough to make conspiracy charges a favorite of federal prosecutors. Yet, the precise bounds of any given conspiracy are very difficult to trace.

Courts swing back and forth between whether to restrict conspiracy charges or let federal prosecutors have a freer reign with them. Opinions, or, worse, jury instructions, setting out the evidence required to prove a conspiracy swing back and forth.

On one hand, the government has to show that there’s an agreement between the people who are supposedly in the conspiracy. On the other hand, an agreement doesn’t have to be in writing, or even acknowledged as an agreement, and it can be inferred from the actions of the people who are accused of a crime. Yet mere temporal or physical proximity between the alleged co-conspirators is not enough to prove a conspiracy. Though a person can become a co-conspirator without knowing all the parts of the conspiracy, mere knowledge of the conspiracy is not enough to make a person a conspirator.

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