By Dan Menken

Last Thursday, in United States v. Dawkins, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conviction and sentencing of Ciara Dawkins for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and oxymorphone, 21 U.S.C. § 846 (2012), and aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute oxymorphone, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (2012) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (2012).  Dawkins appealed, claiming that the district court erred in determining the drug quantity attributable to her for sentencing purposes.

A district court’s findings on drug quantity are generally factual in nature and, therefore, the Fourth Circuit reviewed for clear error.  Dawkins claimed that the probation officer utilized a “concocted formula” based on speculation and conjecture.  She further claimed that the testimony of Jason McClure was inherently unreliable because he was a pill abuser.  The Fourth Circuit noted that the government must prove the drug quantity attributable to a defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.  The Fourth Circuit further noted that the district court may rely on information in the presentence report unless the defendant affirmatively shows that the information is inaccurate or unreliable.  To reverse the court’s findings on drug quantity, the court must have a “definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.”

The Fourth Circuit found no clear in error in the district court’s conclusion that the probation officer arrived at a thorough and conservative estimate of relevant conduct based on McClure’s testimony.  Additionally, Jason McClure’s reliability is not at issue because credibility determinations are for the trier of fact, not the reviewing court.  Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Dawkins’ conviction and sentence.

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