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Chicago Drug Conspiracy Case Confirmed by 7th Circuit

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 10, 2016 5:59 AM

The Seventh Circuit just affirmed a lower district court decision that could inflame the passions of many civil rights groups. The issue: Can criminal convictions stand against defendants if another criminal conviction on which the other convictions depended was dismissed?

To most people, the reasonable answer is no. But the Seventh Circuit turned to past presidential case law and said, "Yes, that sounds about right."

False Testimony

Rondell Freeman and a gang of cohorts were indicted and later convicted in criminal court on numerous counts including conspiracy to traffic narcotics, using a telephone to advance a conspiracy, and several others. The other counts against Freeman incorporated as statutory elements describing the crimes Freeman allegedly committed.

It turns out that the prosecution knowingly relied on false testimony from one of its witnesses in securing the conspiracy convictions. So, the district court dismissed the conspiracy count. But the district judge left the other convictions that embraced the conspiracy undisturbed. Freeman moved for a new trial or a dismissal of those charges too. He was denied.

Dual Purposes: Negation and "Discretionary Remediation"

The court was not swayed by Freeman's arguments and cited the rather on-point Seventh Circuit case of U.S. v. Wilbourn. That case stood for the rule that the dismissal of a conspiracy charge did not, without more, require the dismissal of additional criminal counts that embraced the conspiracy.

The purpose of the dismissal, said the Seventh Circuit, serves two main functions. The first is to vindicate the defendant as to the charges of conspiracy and conviction obtained from knowingly false testimony. The second is to serve the best appropriate discretionary remedy for prosecutorial misconduct. In the case of Freeman, the dismissal of the controversy count was really intended to be a slap on the prosecutor's wrist.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

With that, the circuit looked at the rest of the evidence and concluded that there was plenty of sufficient evidence to prove a predicate conspiracy needed to support the other counts beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the false testimony was essentially materially harmless because those other charges were sufficiently supported by independent evidence to establish Freeman's guilt. It looks like phone calls and other recorded evidence did Freeman in.

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