The panel vacated convictions for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine under 21 U.S.C. § 846, RICO conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), and carrying a firearm “during and in relation to” or “in furtherance of” a crime of violence or drug-trafficking crime under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A); and remanded to the district court to grant a judgment of acquittal on those charges and to resentence the defendant, who was a member of the Canta Ranas Organization.
The panel held that there was insufficient evidence to support the defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Explaining that it must distinguish between a mere drug buyer and a participant in a drug-distribution conspiracy, the panel wrote that even after making all reasonable inferences in the prosecution’s favor, the government did not establish the “prolonged and actively pursued course of drug sales” for which the court looks when deciding, in the absence of direct evidence of an agreement, if there is sufficient evidence of an agreement to distribute drugs. The panel therefore concluded that no reasonable jury could determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was part of a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
Because the government’s RICO conspiracy case turns on the same element of proof and the same evidence as did its drug conspiracy case, the panel held that there is likewise insufficient evidence to support the defendant’s conviction for RICO conspiracy.
The panel held that the defendant’s conviction under § 924(c) for possessing a gun in relation to or in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime or crime of violence is unsupported by sufficient evidence. The jury acquitted the defendant of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, so that charge cannot serve as an underlying crime supporting the § 924(c) conviction. And because the government failed to prove the drug-trafficking conspiracy and RICO conspiracy charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the government failed to prove that the defendant
“committed” either conspiracy offense. As a result, neither conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine nor RICO conspiracy can serve as the underlying crime for the defendant’s conviction under § 924(c).
Given its conclusion that sufficient evidence did not support the defendant’s convictions for drug-trafficking conspiracy, RICO conspiracy, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of or in relation to a violent or drug-trafficking offense, the panel did not address the defendant’s other arguments.
Full case here: UNITED STATES V. MENDOZA, http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2022/02/08/19-50092.pdf
Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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