Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Williams: Intent to distribute is not actual distribution

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 07-11707 (Aug. 29, 2008), the Court upheld a jury instruction that instructed the jury that it could take into consideration the defendant’s flight – Williams, when pursued by police, drove his car up to 90 miles per hour before eventually crashing into a metal pole – in determining guilt or innocence of his drug trafficking charge. The Court rejected the argument that the flight reflected nothing more than a generalized consciousness of guilt related to outstanding warrants, rather than guilt about the drugs found in his car.
Turning to the sentence, the Court reversed the imposition of a lifetime ban on receiving federal benefits. The Court noted that 21 U.S.C. § 862 only provides for a lifetime ban if the defendant is convicted of "distribution" of controlled substances. Williams was convicted under 21 U.S.C. § 841 of possession with intent to distribute. The Court concluded that possession with intent to distribute is not actual distribution. Moreover, "if there is ambiguity," the court was obliged to favor a lenient interpretation.