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United States v. Michelena-Orovio

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant contests his conviction for conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana after being aboard a vessel that was intercepted with a huge amount of the drug.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Defendant’s knowledge of the conspiracy to distribute can be inferred from his role in importing the drugs to America.

    Facts. Undercover agents met with Defendant and others and represented themselves as smugglers who wished to coordinate the shipment of marijuana. Once the terms were agreed upon, a ship sailed from Columbia with Defendant on-board. The undercover agents alerted the Coast Guard, which intercepted the ship and discovered large amounts of marijuana. Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to import marijuana and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute. The Court of Appeals panel affirmed the first count, but not the second count. The Court of Appeals agreed to rehear the case.

    Issue. Whether Defendant’s knowledge of and participation in the distribution scheme may be inferred from his participation in the scheme to possess and distribute the narcotic.

    Held. Defendant’s conviction on both counts is affirmed.
    Conspiracies to distribute narcotics have generally been considered to be prime examples of chain, or interconnected, conspiracies in which a participant in a segment of the conspiracy may be convicted of participation in the whole.

    The amount of marijuana was so big and costly that Defendant’s knowledge of the intent to distribute it can be inferred.

    A Defendant’s distribution of the contraband need not be made to the ultimate consumer

    Dissent. Four Justices dissented to this majority opinion. The dissent criticized the majority as taking a shortcut. Under the majority’s analysis, the dissent stated that even the lowest buyer; (a 15 year old) could be convicted in the overall conspiracy based on the majority rule. The dissent referred to Defendant as the ‘lowly Columbian seaman” on the edge of the conspiracy to import and having nothing to do with the distribution of the narcotics.

    Discussion. The discussion of the Court focused primarily on the fact that the ship was loaded with 12 tons of marijuana worth approximately 4 to 6 million on the street. The Court could find no reason why Defendant would not assume that the marijuana would be distributed in America. The Court dismissed Defendant’s contention of ignorance of the laws of America by ruling that he must have known distribution of narcotics was illegal in America.


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