Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Gone To Pot

United States v. Celaj, No. 10-2792-cr (2d Cir. August 22, 2011)(Miner, Cabranes, Straub, CJJ)

Din Celaj headed a crew that would rob – or try to rob – drug dealers. When successful, they would obtain drugs, which they would themselves sell, money and firearms.

He went to trial on several Hobbs Act robbery and associated 924(c) counts, was convicted, and received a 601-month sentence. On appeal, he made a sufficiency claim as to the jurisdictional element of the Hobbs Act counts where the goal was to steal marijuana. He did so despite entering into a stipulation at trial that “marijuana is grown outside of the state of New York and travels in interstate and foreign commerce to arrive in the New York City area.” The circuit affirmed.

The court began by surveying the area. In Parkes, see “Government Has No Evidence; Court Deems It Sufficient,” posted September 23, 2007, the court found the evidence sufficient even though there was no specific evidence about the origin of the marijuana that was stolen, where there was evidence that the object of the robbery was a “small but going” marijuana enterprise, the theft netted several bags of marijuana and $4,000 in cash, and an expert testified that marijuana is typically trucked in through Mexico and very little is grown in New York. By contrast, in Needham, see “Reefer Gladness,” posted May 23, 2010, the court found the evidence – which was limited to the amount of money obtained – insufficient since there was no proof that the marijuana sold by the robbery victims had either originated or been sold out of state.

“Guided by” these cases, the court concluded that the evidence here “achieve[d] the same effect as the evidence offered in Parkes,” which was sufficient. There, the “key evidence” was the expert testimony. Here, the stipulation conveyed “the same information about the interstate nature of the marijuana trade.” And, unlike Neeham, there was more evidence than just drug money, because Celaj had made statements that he was in the business of stealing marijuana and selling it.

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