In Dieujuste v. State, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal explains that a person’s presence at the scene of a crime is not enough to find the person guilty of criminal conspiracy.
Betsy Dieujuste was convicted of conspiracy to traffic in oxycodone with co-defendants Junior Julien and Lincoln Jackson. At trial, it was revealed that Delray Beach police officer Edward McCabe was working undercover when he bought 16 oxycodone pills from David Levine. McCabe later contacted Levine again, seeking to buy another 50 pills. He went to Levine’s apartment and was introduced to Sarah Billett. McCabe gave $700 to Levine, who handed it to Billett.
Outside the apartment, Billett approached a black car, registered to Dieujuste and driven by Junior Julien. Lincoln Jackson was a passenger in the car. Julien got out of the car and handed pills to Billett in exchange for the money. Delray Beach police officers observing the transaction also noticed a third person in the back of the car, who was later identified as Dieujuste. Billett returned to the apartment and handed 46 oxycodone pills to McCabe.
The black car drove off and stopped one block away, where Julien exited and drove off in another vehicle. Dieujuste got behind the wheel of the black car and was stopped and arrested shortly thereafter. The arresting officers found $400 in Dieujuste’s purse, matching the money originally given to McCabe. They also found a prescription pill bottle with Dieujuste’s name on it and containing 54 oxycodone pills. Later tests were unclear as to whether the pills came from the same batch as those given to McCabe.
Dieujuste testified that the $400 was rent money owed to her by her live-in boyfriend. The boyfriend had told Dieujuste to get the money from Julien, who owed money to the boyfriend. She further testified Julien asked her to drive him to get money that was owed to Julien. She said she did not know what Julien did when he left the car or how he got the money, $400 of which he then gave to Dieujuste.
On appeal, the Fourth District reversed Dieujuste’s conviction, finding that there was insufficient evidence to show that she engaged in the alleged conspiracy. In order to prove a conspiracy, the court explained, “the state must prove an express or implied agreement or understanding between two or more persons to commit a criminal offense, and an intention to commit that offense.” The agreement can be based on direct evidence – such as a series of meetings or negotiations – or inferred based on circumstantial evidence. A person’s mere presence at the scene of a crime, however, is not enough to establish that he or she engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
In this case, the court found that the evidence was insufficient to prove conspiracy because “there was no evidence of any meetings, conversations, or pre-arrangements between appellant and Julien from which the jury could infer the existence of an agreement.” Furthermore, the court noted that Dieujuste was acquitted on a related charge of trafficking in oxycodone, meaning that much of the underlying evidence related to both charges should be discredited.
The court remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions that Dieujuste be acquitted of the conspiracy charge.
If you are facing a prescription drug trafficking charge in Florida, it is essential to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney who can effectively defend your rights. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help negotiate with prosecutors, find legal defenses that can exonerate you or reduce your sentence, fight for your interests and achieve the best results possible.
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