Friday, March 7th, 2014

Divided Panel Reverses Judgment of Acquittal; Dissent Calls Ruling “Erroneous and Dangerous”

United States v. Anderson (Hakimi), No. 11-5364-cr (2d Cir. Mar. 4, 2014) (Hall, Carney, and Scheindlin), available here

A jury convicted Roohid Hakimi of conspiracy and attempt to possess and distribute controlled substances. After the verdict, the district court (Judge Hurd) entered a judgment of acquittal, holding that the evidence was insufficient to establish guilt. This published opinion (authored by Judge Carney) reverses and reinstates the convictions. Judge Hall dissents.
The key issue on appeal was whether the evidence allowed a rational juror to conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Hakimi knew that the bag he was poised to receive from Anderson, a co- defendant-turned-cooperator, contained drugs.
The majority said, “Yes.” It summarized its reasoning as follows:
“[T]he jury could infer that Hakimi was a trusted member of the conspiracy, and accordingly that he knew of the contents of the bag that Anderson plausibly testified she was about to give him. These general inferences derive decisive strength in Hakimi’s case from Anderson’s testimony that  the principals in this conspiracy in particular would not have committed a valuable shipment of drugs to a person who was not a trusted individual.”
Judge Hall’s dissent took a different view:
“There is no basis in this record on which the jury could rationally infer a trust relationship between Hakimi and the principals and thereby infer Hakimi’s knowledge of the nature of the contraband. To that end, the majority proposes a broad holding that a jury can infer a ‘trusted insider’ status, and thereby knowledge of the nature of the object of a conspiracy, from nothing more than the value of the contraband to be transported, phone calls of unknown content, and a co-conspirator’s intention that the defendant have sole possession of the object to be delivered. This is not … in line with this Circuit’s prior precedent and is tantamount to the sort of speculation that we have previously held insufficient to support a conviction for drug conspiracy or attempted possession of controlled substances.”
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