We are mixing it up this Monday morning, featuring a little favorable federal case law. Attorneys in the Sixth Circuit so rarely receive good news (if they were collectively a character on the Oregon Trail they would NEVER make it to the West Coast, losing their lives time and time again to dysentery, or Scarlett Fever, or the Plague), that it probably feels like Christmas in July for Frank Randolph. (Frank’s appellate counsel was a firm in Atlanta that has also represented T.I. and Ben Roethlisberger.) Frank’s the defendant in United States v. Randolph, and he likely celebrated over the weekend, because the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded a judgment of acquittal in his favor. Let’s discuss Frank’s case:
Frank was a family man, and to his detriment, he became entangled in his half-brother’s Pulaski, Tennessee, drug-trafficking operation. Through the use of confidential informants, video and wiretap surveillance, the Government determined that Frank was helping his half-brother hide drug proceeds. In 2011, agents seized firearms and cash from Frank’s house – approximately $165,000 in property, including $2,100 in marked money that had been part of a controlled buy. Frank was charged in a Second Superceding Indictment with:
1. Conspiracy to violate federal drug laws;
2. Conspiracy to commit money laundering;
3. Knowingly possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking;
4. Accessory after the fact; and
5. Perjury at the initial appearance.
Frank tried to work out a plea agreement, but it fell through because he refused to admit that he had obtained controlled substances for his half-brother. Frank went to trial with two other defendants, and he was found guilty of drug trafficking, money laundering, perjury, and aiding and abetting. The jury determined that Frank was “guilty” of drug trafficking, but when addressing the sub-questions, of which drugs - cocaine, cocaine base, or marijuana - the jury selected the “None” box. Very confusing. Frank’s range of punishment began at 97 months, but the District Judge sentenced him to 70 months. Frank filed a motion for new trial and judgment of acquittal – how could he be guilty of a drug trafficking conspiracy that didn’t involve any of the charged drugs?
The Sixth Circuit found that Frank had a valid argument and ordered that his conviction for trafficking be reversed because, “…the jury could not have found him guilty of the conspiracy while simultaneously determining that the conspiracy did not involve any of the charged drugs.” Randolph at 6. In federal court, a drug trafficking conspiracy requires 3 things: (1) an agreement to violate drug laws; (2) knowledge and intent to join the conspiracy; and (3) participation in the conspiracy. Further defined, the jury had to find that Frank, “knowingly or intentionally … manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance.”
So what’s the real issue for Frank: Whether or not the jury’s judgment form in his case is inconsistent, and, if it is inconsistent, is it reviewable?
Historically, the courts have elected not to review inconsistent verdicts. The Sixth Circuit, cited Dunn v. United States, a 1932 SCOTUS decision, “that a verdict may have been the result of compromise or of a mistake on the part of the jury, but that verdicts cannot be upsets by speculation or inquiry into such matters.” The decisions are generally non-reviewable because the defendant would be protected against irrational jurors through the process of trial and appellate review of sufficiency of the evidence.
Frank wasn’t worried though, because there are two scenarios in which inconsistent verdicts may be reviewed: (1) when they “are marked by such inconsistency as to indicate arbitrariness or irrationality,” and (2) “where a guilty verdict on one count necessarily excludes a finding of guilt on another.” Frank’s case was a little different. Here, the Sixth Circuit deemed there was “an internal inconsistency in the same count as it relates to the same defendants, in the same verdict.”
After going through analysis of how sister circuits have handled the same scenario, this panel decided that Frank’s verdict was inconsistent to the point that a judgment of acquittal should be granted – the jury’s special verdict finding negated an essential element of the offense. Good news, Frank, you’re getting a new sentencing hearing, sans Count One!
For all the details, including the nitty-gritty on citations, and three smaller issues that didn’t work out so well for Frank (did the trial court err in the exclusion of a special agent’s testimony on laundered funds? did the trial counsel err in determining Frank laundered over $200,000? And did the trial court err in denying Frank the “minimal role” reduction?) see the full case here: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/15a0163p-06.pdf
The best stories you'll want to know about from Tennessee and around the country.
Certifications of Specialization are available to Tennessee lawyers in all areas of practice relating to or included in the areas of Accounting Malpractice, Business Bankruptcy, Civil Trial, Consumer Bankruptcy, Creditors’ Rights, Criminal Trial, DUI Defense Law, Elder Law, Estate Planning, Family Law, Juvenile Law, Legal Malpractice, Medical Malpractice, and Social Security Law. Listing of related or included practice areas herein does not constitute or imply a representation of certification of specialization.