Federal Law provides that a person deemed a “leader” of a drug trafficking ring may be subjected to an enhanced sentence or, in other words, more time behind bars. In U.S. v. Dang, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit examines how this enhanced sentence provision may be applied in real life.
Mr. Dang was arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, a federal crime, after police learned that he had been shipping packages of marijuana from his home in California to at least six people in Florida. These packages were allegedly forwarded to a Florida man named Alonzo Moore. Prosecutors alleged that Moore told Dang where to send the drugs and Dang was never in direct contact with anyone to whom he mailed the marijuana. Officers in California observed Dang traveling to a local post office with three other people at times and said that sometimes these people actually mailed the packages.
Dang pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison. Finding that he was an organizer or leader in criminal activity that involved five or more participants, a trial court applied an enhancement to what would have been a lesser sentence. It also rejected Dang’s claim that the sentence should be reduced because 16 states, including California, had legalized medical marijuana at the time.
Upholding the sentence, the Eleventh Circuit said it was a “close case” but that the lower court didn’t err in finding that Dang was a leader of the drug ring. Specifically, federal law provides for a sentence enhancement for a person who is the “organizer or leader” of a criminal enterprise involving at least five people. “We might have found differently if we were the fact finder, but we are not left with the definite and firm conviction that it was a mistake for the district court to find that Dang was a leader,” the appeals court said.
The court noted that Dang fronted Moore the money for the drugs and told him what to do with the proceeds of his transactions in order to not tip off police. While this evidence alone wasn’t enough to establish leadership, the court said Dang exercised more control than the typical drug seller. In particular, he directed Moore to bring large amounts of cash on plane trips to California and began working directly with another member of the drug ring when Moore wasn’t able get the person enough marijuana. In addition, he allegedly worked with three people in California whom he directed to mail deliveries and used their bank accounts to deposit proceeds.
The court also said that the trial court considered Dang’s argument that he was entitled to a downward variance because medical marijuana has been legalized in certain states. The lower court did not err in rejecting this argument based on its finding that there was no evidence showing that the marijuana at issue in this case was being used for medical purposes.
If you’re facing drug possession or trafficking charges, you are well-advised to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney who help you mount the strongest possible defense. The South Florida drug trafficking defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are dedicated to providing our clients with aggressive, competent and high-quality representation. We are prepared to defend your rights and help achieve the best outcome possible.
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