Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Holt: Single conspiracy had a "common goal"

In U.S. v. Holt, No. 13-10453 (Jan. 30, 2015), the Court affirmed convictions and sentences of defendants charged with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and cocaine. The Court rejected the defendants’ argument that evidence should be suppressed based on an unreasonable length of time elapsed between traffic stops and the deployment of drug dogs, finding that 27 minutes for one stop and only a few minutes for another was not unreasonable. The Court also found that the police had reasonable, articulable suspicions that Hold was engaged in drug trafficking. The Court rejected the argument that the trial court’s admission in evidence of pre-indictment narcotics distribution was a “constructive amendment” of the indictment. The Court noted that this evidence helped explain why one defendant helped the others distribute drugs, and not broaden the possible bases for conviction. The Court also rejected the argument that the government proved multiple conspiracies, not a single conspiracy, finding that the defendants “operated toward a common goal to distribute cocaine and oxycodone in South Florida and Boston," and involved “a significant overlap of participants.” The Court further noted that the defendants did not demonstrate “substantial prejudice” from any variance, as evidenced by the fact that the jury returned different verdicts as to different defendants. The Court found no error in the district court’s admission of expert testimony by a DEA agent regarding the meanings of coded language used by the defendants in intercepted communications. The Court noted that the testimony helped thejury interpret the meaning of words “more accurately than a lay person.” The Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of a mid-trial motion for a recess to prepare to testify and obtain witnesses. The trial had been going on for weeks, and the defendant had received multiple warnings to be ready to present her case. Further, the defendant had shown a lack of diligence in failing to subpoena witnesses.