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Second Circuit: Drug Buyer Not Automatically Part of Drug Distribution Conspiracy

Federal drug allegations are serious matters. Many federal drug prosecutions involve potential mandatory minimum prison terms that require convicted drug offenders to spend a minimum amount of time behind bars. One of the most serious types of drug-related convictions - for participating in a conspiracy - can punish the defendant for the actions of others, resulting in liability for more than the amount of drugs the person sold or possessed himself. A recent opinion handed down by a federal appellate court places limitations on the government's ability to charge drug offenders with conspiracy for simply purchasing drugs from a group of drug dealers.

In United States v. Dickerson, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was faced with the ruling of a lower court that ruled that there was enough evidence to allow a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the purchaser of drugs from a group of drug dealers was engaged in a drug distribution conspiracy, a finding that resulted in significant time in federal prison.

A conspiracy charge requires the government to show that two or more individuals came together to conduct an illegal activity. Thus, at first glance, it may appear that any drug sale would amount to a conspiracy because a drug dealer and purchaser are two individuals that have come together to buy and sell drugs, an illegal activity. But various courts have ruled that when a crime requires two individuals in order for the crime to be complete, a conspiracy typically does not exist if only those two individuals are engaged in the activity.

In the Dickerson case, Mr. Dickerson purchased cocaine from a criminal enterprise whose members admittedly were part of a conspiracy to distribute drugs. The federal prosecutor charged Dickerson with being engaged in the same distribution conspiracy because Dickerson was aware of the organization that he was purchasing from. Furthermore, evidence was produced at trial to show that Dickerson turned around and sold some of the cocaine that he had purchased from the criminal enterprise.

In reversing the lower court's ruling regarding the conspiracy charge, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that just because a purchaser of drugs from an organization sold the drugs himself, he was not necessarily part of the conspiracy. The Second Circuit found that Dickerson had not purchased crack or other drugs solely from the enterprise, nor did he answer to them in any way. The Court of Appeals further found that Dickerson did nothing to aid the conspiracy in any way, nor did he share any of his profits with those from whom he purchased drugs. The Second Circuit likened Dickerson's activity to a food truck business, arguing that just because a food truck uses a grocery store to purchase some of their supplies, the food truck would not be considered to be working with the grocery store in any way other than as a customer. Further, the grocery store would not be imputed to be a part of the food truck business because it sells to a vendor over which it has no control.

Although the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Dickerson, the legal battle was a tough one. If you have been arrested or are being investigated for a federal drug offense, the wisest thing that you can do is consult with an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as possible. Each set of facts and circumstances is different and bringing in an attorney with extensive experience in federal drug defense is imperative. Contact George Hildebrandt , an experienced criminal defense attorney with more than 30 years of experience.

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