In a precedential decision, the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed a judgment of acquittal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, resulting from a 2007 drug trafficking operation involving one hundred kilograms of cocaine. Defendant, Ruben Boria was convicted of both conspiracy and aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of a controlled substance, after a four-day jury trial in the District Court. Subsequent to receiving the guilty verdict, Boria filed for a judgment of acquittal and also for a new trial; arguing that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain convictions for conspiracy and aiding and abetting, and that the Court erred by allowing certain evidence which should have been found inadmissible. After hearing arguments on the Motions, the District Court granted Boria’s Motion for a directed judgment of acquittal. The District Court’s ruling was then appealed to the Third Circuit by Federal Prosecutors.
By way of background, the drug trafficking ring in question was part of a Mexican drug cartel, involved in distributing controlled substances throughout the United States. Federal officials were alerted to the movement of cocaine when one of the players involved phoned a contact in Philadelphia, who happened to be a Drug Enforcement Agency informant. Miguel Morel contacted Jose Alvarado, the informant, seeking an available garage to unload a tractor-trailer. Alvarado was unable to find an available garage for Morel to unload the truck, but instead found a lot where the truck could be stored temporarily overnight. Once the truck arrived in Philadelphia and parked in the overnight lot, Alvarado continually monitored the truck overnight; at some point, he was also able to alert law enforcement to the suspicious activity. The following morning, Alvarado “returned” to the parking lot to take the truck driver, Marcus Diaz to breakfast.
While at breakfast, Alvarado received a phone call from Morel, advising that he was sending someone to pick-up the truck and take it to a garage for unloading. Alvarado and Diaz returned to the parking lot where they were met by Ruben Boria. Diaz and Boria entered the truck and began driving to the garage, with Alvarado following. At one point along the journey, Diaz pulled the truck over into a parking lot while he awaited confirmation that the garage was ready for the trucks arrival. Upon exiting this parking lot, the truck was immediately stopped by Philadelphia Police, who had been observing the truck based upon Alverado’s previous information. A subsequent K-9 search alerted the officers to illegal contraband and officers were able to enter the trailer via a key they found on a key-ring, which was left in the ignition upon the stop. After three hours of searching the trailer, one hundred kilograms of cocaine were found hidden within boxes of rotten fruit.
Federal Court case law has established that in order to sustain a conviction for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, there must have been a shared unity of purpose, an intent to achieve a common illegal goal, and an agreement to work towards that goal, but also specific knowledge that controlled substances were involved, rather than some other contraband or illegal activity. A long line of case decisions has established that when a co-conspirator’s activities do not demonstrate sufficient knowledge that the illegal activity involved a controlled substance, a conviction for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances can not be substantiated.
On appeal, the government argued the facts of the case, which they believe showed Boria’s knowledge that he was transporting a controlled substance. The government cited Miguel Morel’s reputation as a drug trafficker; Alvarado’s testimony established that Morel would often hire others to do his leg work while he remained far away from the controlled substance, would share information with these workers relative to their duties, and that Morel was known for these practices. The government established that Boria has fourteen telephone calls to and from Manuel Baroso in the hour prior to the police stop, a known drug supplier according to Alvarado, and that Boria’s phone continued to ring after the stop. Based upon Alvarado’s testimony that the individuals whom Boria contacted were well known for their involvement in drugs, the Third Circuit found sufficient evidence to sustain convictions for conspiracy and aiding and abetting possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, thereby reinstating the convictions and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance is a crime which carries many harsh penalties. Depending on the quantity of controlled substance you are found to possess, you may even be charged with drug trafficking. Such charges carry even greater penalties.
Drug offenses are serious matters which involve serious penalties. If you have been charged with a drug offense, there are many defenses which may be available. Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately, so that your situation can be assessed and a defense to your charges can be developed.