Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Amede: Upholding Drug Conviction an Sentence Over Various Challenges

 In United States v. Amede, No. 18-11172 (Oct. 8, 2020) (Hull, William Pryor, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence for attempted possession with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine.

First, the Court upheld the denial of the defendant’s motion to exclude three recorded phone calls between a co-conspirator and undercover officer to arrange the drug deal.  The Court held that the statements were admissible under the co-conspirator hearsay exception, because they were made during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy, even if the defendant had not joined the conspiracy until after the calls were made (though he already had).

 Second, the district court did not constructively amend the indictment by omitting “willfully” from the indictment's “knowingly and willfully” allegation.  The government was only required to prove that the defendant acted knowingly or intentionally, not willfully.  So the indictment’s inclusion of “willfully” was mere surplusage that the district court was free to omit.

 Third, the Court found the evidence sufficient to sustain the conviction because it established that the defendant acted knowingly and was attempting to possess cocaine with intent to distribute it.

Fourth, the Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by limiting cross-examination and the defendant’s own testimony regarding a duress defense.  There was no evidence that the defendant had no reasonable opportunity to escape or to inform the police that others were threatening his family or coercing him to do the drug deal.  His subjective belief alone that law enforcement would not have protected his family abroad was insufficient.  In any event, any error was harmless because the defense was still able to elicit testimony to support the duress defense.

Fifth, the Court found that, under the particular facts and circumstances, the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived the right to counsel at sentencing after refusing to cooperate with his retained substitute counsel or his original court-appointed counsel.