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United States v. Figueroa

May 25, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CARLOS FIGUEROA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.

MEMORANDUM

On January 22, 2008, Carlos Figueroa was charged with distribution of heroin, distribution of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, and possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. The Court held a jury trial from December 14 until December 17, 2009. After the government rested its case on December 16, 2009, the defendant moved for judgment of acquittal as to the two drug offenses.*fn1 He argued that the government had not established a sufficient chain of custody. The Court heard argument from both parties and reserved on the motion so that it could review the trial transcript.

The jury found Mr. Figueroa guilty of the two distribution charges and of possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. The jury could not reach a verdict as to possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, and so the Court declared a mistrial for that charge. After the trial concluded, the parties submitted briefs to support their positions with respect to the defendant's motion for acquittal. Upon reviewing the parties' briefs and the trial transcripts, the Court had concerns about the chain of custody established for the heroin and the cocaine. It detailed these concerns in a long order scheduling oral argument on the defendant's motion.*fn2 Oral argument on the defendant's motion was held on April 27, 2010. After oral argument, the parties submitted additional writings. Upon consideration of the defendant's motion, the parties' arguments during trial and during oral argument, and the parties' briefs and supplemental writings, the Court will deny the defendant's motion.

I. The Trial Record

A. Heroin

The first sale of drugs occurred in the afternoon on December 14, 2006. Police Officer Brian Myers testified that during the afternoon on December 14, 2006, the defendant sold to him four blue, glassine packets stamped "Everlast," alleged to contain heroin, in exchange for forty dollars.*fn3 Trial Tr. Vol. 1, 38:24-39:2.*fn4

At trial, Officer Myers identified Exhibit 1, a property receipt with his signature, which described the narcotics purchased during the first drug sale. 1:45:20-46:4. Officer Myers testified that the property receipt listed the evidence as four clear, heat-sealed, plastic packets, each containing a blue, glassine insert stamped "Everlast." 1:46:13-18. Exhibit 1 was admitted into evidence. 1:46:5-9.

Officer Myers never identified the physical evidence from the first drug sale, the alleged heroin that the defendant was charged with distributing. As such, he also did not compare the property receipt number found on the physical evidence to the number on the property receipt.*fn5

Officer Myers testified generally about police procedure with respect to the transport of confiscated drugs from police headquarters to the police chemistry lab for chemical analysis. He stated that after he field tests drugs, the drugs are placed on a property receipt and shipped to the police chemistry lab for further analysis. 1:49:10-16. Officer Myers, however, did not testify specifically as to how the alleged heroin from the first drug sale was transported from his custody to that of the lab.

Ninan Varughese, a forensic scientist in the Philadelphia Police Department chemistry lab, testified as an expert witness. He identified Exhibit 2B as the physical evidence he received for analysis.*fn6 2:117:6-16. Mr. Varughese explained that he could identify the physical evidence based on the lab number, property receipt number, and report stapled to the evidence. He also identified his signature on the heat seal of the evidence. 2:117:11-16. The government moved Exhibit 2B into evidence.*fn7 2:119:19-25.

Mr. Varughese explained that generally, when he receives evidence, he checks the numbers to ensure that the numbers on the evidence correspond to those on the property receipt. 2:118:11-14. Mr. Varughese, however, did not testify that he performed this cross check for the drugs that he tested.

Mr. Varughese next identified Exhibit 2C, the laboratory report he prepared for the evidence found in Exhibit 2B.*fn8 2:120:8-14. He testified that his report noted that Exhibit 2B contained four clear, heat-sealed, blue-glazed packets stamped "Everlast." 2:120:21-121:1. Upon analysis of one of the packets, the substance inside the packet was found to contain heroin. 2:121:8-11. Mr. Varughese did not testify that the property receipt number on his laboratory report corresponded to the property receipt number on the physical evidence.

Mr. Varughese also testified as to how he received the evidence. He explained that the physical evidence and related paperwork, including the property receipt, were placed in his personal locked bin. 2:117:20-118:3. He did ...


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