By: Diana C. Castro

Today, in United States v. Ornis Leger, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina convicting the defendant of two counts of drug-related offenses.

Defendant Contends Insufficient Evidence and Improper Denial of Safety Valve.

On appeal, the defendant contended two issues: (1) there was insufficient evidence to convict him of two counts of possession of marijuana; and (2) the District Court improperly denied him the possibility of less time in prison than the mandatory minimum required.

Defendant Was Convicted of Conspiracy to Possess With Intent to Distribute More Than 100 Kilograms of Marijuana and Possession With Intent to Distribute Marijuana.

Ornis Leger appealed from the criminal judgment imposed after a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

Leger was stopped by DEA agents with approximately 750 pounds of marijuana in his van, after unloading the shipment with the aid of his co-conspirators. Leger consistently stated that he thought the shipment was furniture.

A Jury’s Verdict Must Be Sustained When There is Enough Evidence in the Record to Support the Conviction.

Under United States v. Jaensch, 665 F.3d, 83, 93 (4th Cir. 2011), an appellate court must sustain a jury verdict when, viewed in the light most favorable to the government, there is substantial evidence in the record to support the conviction.  Evidence is substantial when a reasonable finder of fact could accept it as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Fourth Circuit’s review of the record indicated substantial evidence to support Leger’s convictions.

To Benefit From the Safety Valve, a Defendant Must Establish Five Statutory Requirements.

Safety valves are laws that allow courts to sentence an offender to less time in prison than the mandatory minimum requirement, if the person or the offense meets certain special requirements.  In determining whether the District Court improperly denied Leger the benefit of the safety valve, the Fourth Circuit applied a clearly erroneous standard of review.

Under United States v. Henry, 673 F.3d 285, 292-95 (4th Cir. 2012), the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 5C1.2(a) (2012), and  18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) (2012), a defendant seeking the relief of a safety valve must establish five requirements: “(1) the defendant does not have more than one criminal history point; (2) the defendant did not use violence or possess a firearm in connection with the offense; (3) the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury; (4) the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense; and (5) no later than the time of sentencing, the defendant truthfully provided the government with all evidence and information the defendant had concerning the offense or offenses comprising the same course of conduct or a common scheme or plan.”

Leger Did Not Overcome the Burden of Showing that He Was Truthful and Complete in His Disclosure.

Leger indisputably met the first four requirements necessary to seek the benefit of the safety valve.  To satisfy the fifth requirement, Leger must have truthfully disclosed all information he had “about the offense of conviction and any other crimes that constitute relevant conduct.”  United States v. Aidoo, 670 F.3d 600, 610 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 627 (2012).

The Fourth Circuit concluded that the District Court did not clearly err in denying Leger the benefit of the safety valve.  Although Leger claimed he thought he was unloading furniture and not marijuana, neither the jury nor the sentencing judge found him credible.  The Fourth Circuit emphasized that even though Leger was consistent in stating that he believed the shipment was furniture, consistency is not the sole indicator of truthfulness.

 Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Affirmed.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding there was substantial evidence to support Leger’s convictions and the District Court did not clearly err in denying Leger the benefit of the safety valve.

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