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Regular Buying and Selling Not Enough to Show Drug Conspiracy

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 04, 2015 4:05 PM

The Second Circuit reversed a conviction for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine on Wednesday. James Dickerson was convicted of conspiring with a New Haven, Connecticut, drug ring from which he bought and resold drugs. The jury viewed him as part of the drug ring's conspiracy based almost solely on the volume and frequency of drug purchases and resales.

That is too tenuous of a connection to support a conspiracy conviction, the Second Circuit reasoned. Prosecutors must show more than just large, regular purchases and resales in order to show that Dickerson was part conspiring as part of the ring, rather than simply being one of its customers.

Volume? Check. Frequency? Check.

Dickerson was indicted along with 37 other defendants and charged with conspiracy to distribute and actual distribution. The indictment swept up dozens of people connected to a drug ring in Hamden and New Haven, Connecticut. One of the "lieutenants" in the ring, Jayquis "Pooka" Brock, pleaded guilty and testified that Dickerson regularly bought eight-balls from him, often two at a time, several times a week, sometimes twice a day.

Warrants show Dickerson calling Brock 129 times over four months -- more than one phone call a day. But Brock also testified that he had no idea whether Dickerson resold the drugs and did not consider him part of the drug ring.

Indeed, Dickerson admitted that he resold the drugs but argued that he had nothing more to do with the ring. He was just a customer doing his own thing on the side. The district court refused to dismiss the drug conspiracy count, reasoning that the exchanges between Dickerson and Brock alone were insufficient, but that the size and regularity of his purchases could indicate conspiracy and a joint endeavor between the two.

But Still Missing the Conspiracy

Simply purchasing and selling drugs is not the same as a conspiracy to distribute. While a buyer and seller can develop a shared "conspiratorial purpose to advance other transfers," that purpose needs to be proven by showing more than just a regular reselling of drugs, the Second wrote. Here, Dickerson bought a lot of crack from Brock, sure -- but he bough a lot from others as well, and he had no involvement with the organization Brock was involved in. There were no lines of credit, no limitations on how he could resell the drugs, no explicit knowledge of what Dickerson even did with his crack.

The volume and frequency of the drugs exchanged, alone, can't support an inference of a drug conspiracy, the Second ruled. Prosecutors must also show a deeper connection to the drug ring. Dickerson was not a conspirator, the court concluded. He was simply "a good customer."

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