United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Before the Court are the appeals of Defendants Donald Dezarn and Christopher Goldstein from judgments entered by Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart. For the reasons that follow the convictions and sentences will be affirmed.
I. Facts and Procedural History
On January 27, 2014, Defendants were convicted of possessing a controlled substance on land administered by the National Park Service, in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.35(b)(2). On March 26, 2014, they were sentenced to two years of probation, a $35.00 special assessment, and a $3, 000 fine. Dezarn appeals his conviction and sentence, while Goldstein appeals only his sentence. These cases were consolidated for appeal.
Dezarn and Goldstein are outspoken critics of American drug laws and policy. On August 31, 2013, they attended a rally at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. The rally was organized to support legalization of marijuana. At approximately 4:20 P.M., a Park Ranger, Eli Bowers, smelled burning marijuana and saw Dezarn smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. Bowers escorted Dezarn to a secure area where he could perform a “field test” on the cigarette to determine if there was probable cause that the cigarette contained marijuana. Dezarn told Bowers that the cigarette contained marijuana, and the cigarette tested positive for THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). Bowers issued a citation to Dezarn.
At the same time, another Park Ranger, Giancarlo Graziani, saw Goldstein smoking what appeared to be a marijuana cigarette. Graziani asked if it was marijuana, and Goldstein said that it was. Graziani then performed a field test on the cigarette, which also tested positive for THC.
On cross-examination, Bowers testified that the field test does not conclusively establish whether a substance is marijuana; instead, law enforcement officials use the test to determine whether there is probable cause to believe a substance is marijuana. Crime laboratories can perform authoritative tests. In this case, the cigarettes seized from Dezarn and Goldstein were submitted to the Philadelphia Police Department’s Chemical Analysis facility for testing. According to a memorandum introduced into evidence at trial, Dezarn and Goldstein’s joints were placed into the same evidence bag as three other joints seized from someone else, for a total of five joints. The laboratory tested three joints, all of which contained marijuana, and Dezarn argues that it is impossible to know whether all three of those joints were seized from someone other than Dezarn. Furthermore, Dezarn testified at trial that someone at the rally gave him the cigarette that was seized from him and that he did not know whether it was marijuana because he was unable to inhale smoke from the cigarette (although he did light it). He testified that he was “not able to tell . . . with 100 percent certainty” that the ambient smell of marijuana at the rally was coming from his burning cigarette, and that he did not recall telling Bowers that the cigarette contained marijuana.
II. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review
Judge Hart had jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3401(a), and this Court therefore has jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3402. This Court sits as an appellate tribunal in reviewing the decision of the Magistrate Judge and therefore applies the same standards of review that the Third Circuit applies to appeals from district courts in criminal cases.
III. Sufficiency of the Evidence
A. Standard of Review
“[The Court] exercise[s] plenary review over [Dezarn’s] sufficiency challenge. To that end, [the Court must] examine the totality of the evidence, both direct and circumstantial, and must credit all available inferences in favor of the government. [The Court] must affirm the conviction if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. [Dezarn’s] burden is extremely high.”
Dezarn argues, primarily on the basis of the memorandum that suggests his joint may not have been tested, that there was insufficient evidence below to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This argument lacks merit. Even if the Court accepts Dezarn’s argument that his cigarette was mixed with four others (and thus there is only a 60% chance that Dezarn’s cigarette was tested by the Philadelphia Police ...