United States v. Jones, No. 05-5879-cr (2d Cir. June 24, 2008) (Leval, Cabranes, Raggi, CJJ)
In 2004, Jones was present in a “gatehouse” – an apartment used solely for the purpose of selling drugs – when Rochester police executed a search warrant. The officers found, inter alia, twenty-two grams of crack residue and $883 in cash hidden in the apartment. Jones admitted “selling a little.” Despite this admission, the jury convicted him only of simple crack possession.
At sentencing, the court held him accountable for possessing forty-seven grams of crack. This comprised the twenty-two grams of crack residue, plus an estimated twenty-five additional grams, which was based on the probable amount that Jones had sold to realize the $883.
On appeal, Jones argued, primarily, that it was unreasonable for the court to translate the money into drugs for the purposes of calculating drug quantity under the sentencing suidelines, an issue that, surprisingly, the court had never before addressed in a precedential opinion. It did so here, however, and affirmed.
The court joined eight other circuits to conclude that where the sentencing court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that seized currency is the proceeds of drug trafficking, it may “consider the market price for the drugs in which the defendant trafficked in determining the drug quantity represented by that currency.” Here, there was no error in the district court’s findings that: (1) Jones possessed the money; (2) the money was drug money, and (3) that, based on the price an informant had recently paid for crack from that same apartment, the $883 would have purchased about twenty-five grams.
Kimbrough to the Rescue
The court also held, however, that the district court committed a procedural error by apparently treating the guidelines for crack cocaine as presumptively reasonable, without recognizing its discretion to reject the notorious 100 to one ratio. Although the record was somewhat ambiguous, and the sentencing occurred before Rita, Gall and Kimbrough were decided, the court of appeals gave Jones the benefit of the doubt, and vacated the sentence.
This is a great decision, filled with unusually strong language about the sentencing court’s discretion in general and the crack cocaine guidelines in particular. Put it on your summer reading list!