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United States of America v. Lloyd Washington

January 30, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
LLOYD WASHINGTON, JR., A/K/A "BUB" DEFENDANT.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GREGORY JONES, A/K/A "G" DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pending before the Court are timely post-trial motions seeking judgments of acquittal or a new trial filed by Defendants Lloyd Washington and Gregory Jones. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be denied.

I. INTRODUCTION

In this case, five people were indicted on charges relating to a conspiracy to retrieve parcels containing cocaine from United Parcel Service ("UPS") Stores in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 2006 to February 2007. At the conclusion of a jury trial, Washington and Jones were both convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and one count of attempted possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, and aiding and abetting the same. The jury found a third defendant, Ronald Crawford, not guilty of the same charges, as well as a firearms charge. Two other defendants pled guilty and testified at the trial. Both Washington and Jones argue that the trial evidence was insufficient to support a finding of guilt on either count of the superseding indictment and that certain evidence should not have been admitted at trial; Washington also argues that he should have been tried separately from Jones.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, the trial court may grant a new trial when there is a finding of trial error, including the introduction of prejudicial testimony, or when the trial court does not believe that the evidence supports the jury's verdict. A "district court can order a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence only if it believes that there is a serious danger that a miscarriage of justice has occurred -- that is, that an innocent person has been convicted." *fn1

In ruling on a motion for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c), the district court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution in order to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence presented at trial. *fn2 In conducting the sufficiency inquiry, a court does "not view the government's evidence in isolation, but rather, in conjunction and as a whole," and will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the decision of the jury. *fn3 "The fact that alternative inferences exist is irrelevant." *fn4 The Court must sustain the jury's verdict if there is substantial evidence to uphold the decision. *fn5 The prosecution may satisfy its burden entirely through circumstantial evidence. *fn6 Under this particularly deferential standard of review, the Court "must be ever vigilant . . . not to usurp the role of the jury by weighing credibility and assigning weight to the evidence, or by substituting [the Court's] judgment for that of the jury." *fn7 Accordingly, a finding of insufficiency should be "confined to cases where the prosecution's failure is clear." *fn8

Notwithstanding this highly deferential standard, in a conspiracy case, the Court must "closely scrutinize the Government's evidence because (1) slight evidence of [a defendants's] connection to the conspiracy is not sufficient to support guilt, and (2) guilt must remain individual and personal." *fn9 "Conspiracy cannot be proven 'by piling inference upon inference'" where those inferences do not logically support the ultimate finding of guilt. *fn10

To prove conspiracy, the Government must show that there was "an agreement, either explicit or implicit, to commit an unlawful act, combined with intent to commit the underlying offense." *fn11 The alleged conspirators must share a "unity of purpose," the intent to achieve a common illegal goal, and an agreement to work together toward that goal. *fn12 Together, these elements "incorporate a requirement that [the Defendants] had knowledge of the specific illegal objective contemplated by the particular conspiracy." *fn13 The Government must establish these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

Because "[s]ecrecy and concealment are essential features of successful conspiracy," *fn14 the Government may satisfy its burden to prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt through either direct or circumstantial evidence. *fn15 But any inferences drawn must "have a logical and convincing connection to the facts established." *fn16 The Third Circuit "forbids the upholding of a conviction of the basis of speculation." *fn17

In addition to conspiracy, Defendants were convicted of aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. In order to prove the aiding and abetting charge, the Government was required to prove that Defendants (1) had knowledge of the drugs, (2) had knowledge that others intended to distribute the drugs, or (3) purposefully intended to aid others in the specific crimes alleged. *fn18 Because the mental state required for this charge is identical to that required for conspiracy, the issue of whether the Government sufficiently provided evidence of "knowledge" is dispositive to both charges. *fn19

III. TRIAL EVIDENCE

The evidence at trial, taken in the light most favorable to the prosecution, established the following. On February 7, 2007, at approximately 8:00 a.m., Philadelphia Police Detective Timothy King received a call from Bill Mullen, a security specialist at a UPS sorting facility in Philadelphia. *fn20 In the course of his duties, Mullen had examined and opened two UPS parcels that contained bricks of white powder, which he believed to be narcotics. *fn21 The parcels were addressed to "Precision Global" and shipped to 211 South Street (a UPS Store) in Philadelphia from "Avatar International," purportedly located at 1435 Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. *fn22

After speaking with Mullen, Detective King drove an unmarked car to the 200 block of South Street to investigate the area. *fn23 Detective King testified that he observed a silver Buick Rendezvous with its engine running near the store; Washington was one of two people inside the Buick. *fn24 Detective King saw a UPS driver arrive at the UPS Store and enter at approximately 9:50 a.m., whereupon Washington walked up and down South Street, looked into the front cab of the UPS truck, looked into the UPS Store window, and circled the 200 block of South Street in the Buick approximately five times. *fn25
At approximately 11:00 a.m., Detective King met with UPS security specialist Mullen at the UPS sorting facility at 15 East Oregon Avenue in Philadelphia. Detective King testified that each parcel he examined contained a series of boxes and bags holding a total of 12 duct-taped bricks of compressed white powder. *fn26 Detective King field-tested the white powder, which tested positive for the presence of cocaine. *fn27 The Philadelphia Police laboratory later confirmed that the white powder was in fact cocaine, weighing approximately 23.7 kilograms. After the field test, Detective King removed five bricks from the parcels and resealed them. *fn28

Detective King, State Trooper Joseph Nigro, and Special Agent Joseph Hartman then took up surveillance positions along South Street near the UPS Store. *fn29 At about 11:45 a.m., Mullen made a controlled delivery of the two parcels to the UPS Store. *fn30 Approximately five minutes after the controlled delivery, Washington and his passenger returned in the silver Buick. *fn31 The surveillance team observed Washington park at the corner of Second and South Streets and walk up and down South Street several times, looking inside each parked car he passed, as though conducting counter-surveillance. *fn32 Next, Washington entered the UPS Store, emerged a few minutes later with a small white bag, and reentered the Buick. *fn33 Washington then circled the 200 block of South Street several more times while looking into parked cars. *fn34

Washington drove away, returning at approximately 2:03 p.m. *fn35 During the time he was away from South Street, Washington met one of the cooperating witnesses at a gas station. *fn36 He later met with another cooperating witness and Jones at the same gas station.*fn37

At approximately 2:07 p.m., the surveillance team observed a taxi driven by Crawford, with another defendant as passenger, park directly in front of the UPS Store. *fn38 The passenger left the taxi and entered the UPS Store, emerging a few moments later with one of the parcels, which she placed in the trunk of the taxi. *fn39 The passenger went back inside the Store to retrieve the second parcel, placed it in the trunk as well, and then re-entered the taxi. *fn40 The taxi drove to Second Street, turned left, and pulled up directly behind Washington's Buick, which was parked one block away at Second and Lombard Streets. *fn41 The taxi followed Washington's car to Delaware Avenue and onto northbound Interstate 95. *fn42 Detective King and other officers, in both marked and unmarked cars, followed the vehicles until they left the Interstate at the Girard Avenue exit. The officers stopped both cars and arrested Washington, Crawford, and the two passengers. *fn43 Detective King recovered the parcels from the trunk of the taxi. *fn44 From the passenger compartment of the Buick, the officers recovered several documents, including a receipt for items purchased from the UPS Store at 211 South Street earlier that day, business cards from other ...

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