U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog

March 2017 Archives

Court Affirms Convictions with Lay Testimony about Drug Slang "Tweezy"

A federals appeals court affirmed convictions against three defendants based in part on lay witness testimony about the meaning of slang words used in drug sales such as "tweezy."

"Tweezy" means crack cocaine, and "step up a yard" means turning powder into crack, the witness testified in United States of America v. Dunston. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals said Timothy Boyle, a DEA agent who had reviewed hundreds of undercover recordings of crack cocaine deals, was well qualified to testify about the meaning of drug slang.

"Where malefactors try to mask their criminal activities by using codes, a law enforcement officer who is equipped by knowledge, experience, and training to break those codes can help to inform the factfinder's understanding," wrote Judge Bruce M. Selya, who is also known for his particular manner of expression.

"So it is here: the government provided the district court with ample reason to conclude that Boyle was knowledgeable about the idiom of the drug trade and, in particular, the vernacular of this group of miscreants."

What a difference a comma can make. In a recent case out of Maine, a missing comma in the state's overtime law decided a dispute between a dairy company and its delivery drivers, where, literally, for want of a comma the case was lost.

Of course, writers, grammarians, lawyers, and the like (wordsy, rulesy people, all) love to debate the value of commas. And few comma issues are as divisive as the Oxford, or serial, comma. This passion for punctuation has kept books on the bestseller list (remember "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"?), prompted public polling, and inspired endless online think pieces.

Sometimes those battles are fought in courtrooms, as was the case in O'Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, the Maine overtime dispute decided by the First Circuit yesterday.

Man Who Sold Parts to Iran for WWIII Denied Lighter Sentence

What part of "World War III" did Sihai Cheng not understand?

Cheng, a Chinese national convicted of selling parts to Iran for "World War III," asked a federal appeals court to reduce his sentence. He basically said it was just a sales pitch, apparently forgetting that China sentences people to death just for selling sensitive information.

The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals summarily dispatched Cheng's appeal, ruling that the trial judge did not exceed her authority in sentencing him to 108 months in prison. The parties had agreed on a lesser sentence, but the judge saw it differently.

"You're not the first case I've seen like this, and I think there has to be a deterrent message sent out there, particularly if you know you're helping a nuclear weapons program," Chief Judge Patti B. Saris said.