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Court Upholds Buju Banton's Conviction for Cocaine Conspiracy

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 22, 2012 4:01 PM

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton's conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine on Thursday, reports The Associated Press.

Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison last year in Tampa federal court, shortly after winning a Grammy for Best Reggae Album.

During his trial, Banton testified that he was bluffing about a drug deal that he made with an undercover informant, and that he had no money to make the deal. (The prosecution had the exchange on audio and videotape. The recordings showed Banton boasting about the drug deal and sampling cocaine.)

On appeal, Banton argued that the government did not establish that he was part of a drug conspiracy because there was never an agreement in place, and his mere presence was insufficient to sustain his conviction. Banton says he's serving time for "talking a big game," the AP reports.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

To sustain a conviction for conspiring to distribute cocaine, the government must prove:

  1. An agreement existed between two or more persons to distribute the drugs,
  2. The defendant at issue knew of the conspiratorial goal, and
  3. He knowingly joined or participated in the illegal venture.

The defendant is considered to have participated in the conspiracy so long as the "defendant's actions facilitated the endeavors of other co-conspirators, or facilitated the venture as a whole." It is irrelevant that particular conspirators may not have known other conspirators or participated in every stage of the conspiracy.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the government, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the evidence supported Buju Banton's conviction.

The court noted that Banton demonstrated familiarity with the drug trade, and his behavior during the instant offense was consistent with his described role of an investor who stays on the outside. Further, he introduced participants involved in the plan to one another, vouched for a newcomer's credibility, thanked one of the participants for the opportunity to do the deal, and stood to gain five kilograms of cocaine from the agreement.

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