By Caroline Daniel

In United States v. Cain, an unpublished opinion released today, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Lenny Cain’s guilty verdict.  Cain was charged with: (1) conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone and (2) possession with intent to distribute oxycodone, and aiding and abetting.

One of the issues Cain appealed involved the use of the word “slight” in the jury instructions.  The instructions involved Cain’s conspiracy conviction, and read: “[a] defendant’s connection to the conspiracy can be slight” and “the Defendant must have participated in some way, however, slight, with knowledge of at least some of the purposes or objectives of the conspiracy and with the intention of aiding in the accomplishment of those unlawful ends.”  Cain contended that the court’s use of the word “slight” in this context created the risk of confusing the jury.  He argued that because the instructions included this word, the jurors potentially believed the burden of proof to be less than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Reviewing the issue de novo, the Fourth Circuit dismissed this argument.  The Court reviewed the jury instructions as a whole instead of piece by piece.  In addition to the use of the word “slight,” the jury instructions also emphasized that the applicable burden of proof was “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  The Court held that the district court had correctly applied and explained the applicable law.  It cited United States v. Allen, a case in which the Fourth Circuit had determined that evidence linking a Defendant to an established conspiracy need only be slight.

Cain also appealed his conviction based on: the district court’s response to a juror’s question; the district court’s denial of his proffered jury instructions; the type evidence admitted; the district court judge’s questions in trial; and insufficient evidence.  The Fourth Circuit upheld his conviction on all counts.