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D.C. Circuit Affirms Prison Sentence Imposed After Acquittal

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on March 20, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The D.C. Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that found a man's prison sentence constitutional even though it was imposed by a judge after he was acquitted by the jury.

In U.S. v Jones, the D.C. Circuit relies on precedent that basically states a sentencing court can base a sentence on acquitted conduct without violating the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury.

Lower Court Ruling

Under the D.C. District Court's ruling, Antwuan Ball and two other D.C. men were convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and were each sentenced to more than 15 years in prison. Ball was acquitted of all the charges by a jury, except for one count of crack distribution.

However, at sentencing, District Judge Richard Roberts disagreed with the jury's acquittal because he believed there was strong evidence that Ball was part of the conspiracy to distribute. As a result, Ball was sentenced to 225 months -- roughly 18 -- years in prison. Even though crack cocaine sentences are notoriously punitive, being sentenced to a conspiracy charge rather than a drug distribution charge results in a much lengthier prison term.

On appeal, Ball and the other appellants argued it was clear error for the district court to find they formed an agreement with members of a gang to distribute crack

Cooperators' Credibility Issues

One of the issues raised by the appellants was that the evidence the district court judge used to support the conspiracy sentence was based on faulty evidence. In U.S. v. Jones, the appellants argued that the cooperators who provided testimony for the prosecutors were "a rogues' gallery unworthy of credence." They claim that the cooperators perjured themselves, breached plea agreements, and took money from the government.

While those factors may affect a cooperators' credibility in general, the D.C. Circuit didn't think that those credibility issues made it implausible for the district court to credit particular parts of their testimonies. Specifically, the cooperators offered mutually corroborative accounts that associated the appellants as conspirators who shared profits from crack cocaine sales in Congress Park.

So despite the appellants' attempts to impeach several of the testifying cooperators, the credibility issues don't trump the mutually corroborative evidence they provided.

Ball has another shot at overturning his sentence and to change the law by appealing to SCOTUS.

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