Legal updates and commentary
United States of America v Mark Anthony Myrie, a.k.a. Buju Banton,
From the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida
June 21, 2012
US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
The Court dismissed Myrie’s appeals against his convictions on the charges of conspiracy for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and aiding and abetting another’s use of a phone to facilitate a drug crime, and also allowed the prosecution’s cross-appeal on Myrie’s acquittal on the charge of gun possession in furtherance of a drug crime. That means the gun charge has been re-instated.
The Court also remanded to the District Court for a ruling, Myrie’s motion for a new trial.
Legal principles against which the Court considered the submissions
1. In determining whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain a jury verdict, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the government, with all reasonable inferences and credibility choices made in the government’s favor.
2. A conviction must be upheld unless the jury could not have found the defendant guilty under any reasonable construction of the evidence.
3. Credibility questions are for the jury, and the Court will assume that the jury answered all of them in a manner that supports the jury’s verdict.
4. A defendant’s own testimony, if disbelieved by the jury, may be considered as “substantive evidence of the defendant’s guilt.”
Conspiracy and Aiding and Abetting charges
To sustain a conviction for conspiring to distribute [cocaine], the government must prove that:
1) an agreement existed between two or more persons to distribute the drugs;
2) that the defendant at issue knew of the conspiratorial goal; and
3) that he knowingly joined or participated in the illegal venture.
The defendant is considered to have participated in the conspiracy once his actions facilitated the actions of his co-conspirators, or the venture as a whole.
The Court stated that:
“…the evidence on the record supports Myrie’s conviction.
It went on to say that:
”Myrie demonstrated familiarity with the drug trade, and his behavior …was consistent with his described role of an investor who stays on the outside.
Further, Myrie introduced Thomas to Johnson, vouched for Thomas’s credibility, told Johnson they had a done deal, thanked Johnson for the opportunity to do the deal, and stood to gain five kilograms of cocaine from the agreement.
Similarly, the evidence establishes that a reasonable jury could have concluded that Myrie knowingly and intentionally aided and abetted Thomas in using a phone to facilitate the cocaine deal because Myrie directed Thomas to ask how much the buyer wanted.”
To succeed on an entrapment the defence must establish:
1) government inducement of the crime, and
2) lack of predisposition on the part of the defendant.
Once the jury rejects the defence, an appellate court looks only at whether the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime.
Having examined the evidence, the Court stated that:
“…the evidence here, when viewed in the light most favorable to the government, allowed the jury to find Myrie guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Johnson only engaged Myrie on the topic of cocaine after Myrie indicated his familiarity with drug dealing, and Myrie asked Johnson if he could purchase cocaine for him while discussing extensive drug operations.
Myrie never told Johnson to stop asking him about a cocaine deal, and Myrie ultimately introduced Thomas, a broker, to Johnson.
Though Myrie testified that he was just trying to outtalk Johnson and that he was not a drug dealer trying to conduct a drug deal, we assume that, based on the jury verdict, the jury disbelieved Myrie and Myrie’s testimony can thus be used as substantive evidence of his guilt.”
Speedy Trial Act
Under the Speedy Trial Act, a defendant must be tried within 70 days of his indictment or initial appearance, whichever was later.
The 70-day period excludes
1. any delay resulting from certain proceedings concerning the defendant, such as the resolution of pretrial motions;
2. a reasonable delay when the defendant is joined for trial with a codefendant for whom the time for trial has not run, and no motion to sever has been granted, and
3. any delay resulting from a continuance granted by any judge in the interest of justice.
The delay caused by co-conspirator James Mack was therefore excluded, and the Court concluded that in all the circumstances, the three month delay was reasonable, and also noted that there was no evidence that the delay caused by the continuances prejudiced Myrie’s defense.
The Court therefore determined that there had not been any violation of the Speedy Trial Act.
The prosecution’s cross appeal on the gun charge
The trial judge had acquitted Myrie on the gun charge, after the jury had found him guilty. The Court noted that a defendant may be liable for a co-conspirator’s gun possession if the possession was reasonably foreseeable.
“We have previously stated that guns and drugs go together hand-in-hand.”
“… the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the government, supports the jury’s conclusion that it was reasonably foreseeable that a co-conspirator would possess a gun in furtherance of the conspiracy.
Given Myrie’s familiarity with the drug trade, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the carrying or using of a gun by a co-conspirator was a reasonably foreseeable action of the conspiracy.
Additionally, the jury could reasonably conclude that the gun was carried in furtherance of the drug deal given the storage of the gun in the same trap compartment as the money.”
After the jury had found Myrie guilty on three counts, he had filed a motion for judgment of acquittal or for a new trial. The district court granted him a judgment of acquittal on the gun charge, but did not rule on his motion for a new trial as required. The Appeals Court therefore remanded that issue to the District Court for a ruling.
The Appeals Court placed great weight on the original findings of the jury. The fact that the jury had weighed the evidence and convicted Myrie on three counts was an important consideration. Myrie’s explanation of his words and actions had been rejected by the jury at trial, and looking at all the evidence, the Appeals Court concluded that there was indeed evidence on which a reasonable jury could have convicted.