Where government presented ample evidence regarding quantity of crack cocaine distributed by defendant, and defendant was responsible for totals distributed by entire conspiracy, sufficient evidence supported conviction.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr., Northern District of Illinois.

John L. O’Leary IV and his co-defendants operated a crack cocaine distribution ring from 2010 to 2014. Each packet of cocaine sold by dealers contained 30 rocks, priced at $10 per rock. Each distributor received about one to eight packets daily, retaining a $100 profit per bag and remitting the remaining $200 to the operation. As a preferred distributor, O’Leary received more packets than others.

O’Leary was indicted by a grand jury and eventually elected to have a bench trial. The government presented evidence in support of the charges including O’Leary’s stipulations, the grand jury testimony, phone calls, maps and 23 grams of seized cocaine. The parties stipulated that O’Leary knowingly sold .4 grams of crack cocaine to an undercover officer on two occasions. O’Leary was found guilty and sentenced to 120 months in prison. O’Leary appealed, contending the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the relevant quantity of 280 grams of cocaine.

The appellate panel began by noting that it reviewed the sufficiency of the evidence from a bench trial under jury trial standards. The panel stated that the government was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that O’Leary knowingly or intentionally distributed 280 grams or more of a substance containing cocaine base. O’Leary argued that the government’s reliance on his grand jury statement should be disregarded because critical aspects of the statement were not corroborated. The panel rejected this argument finding that, as a whole, the evidence established O’Leary’s grand jury statement as reliable.

Citing Opper v. United States, the panel stated that, alone, an uncorroborated confession is generally insufficient to support a conviction and that the government must provide substantial independent evidence which would tend to establish the trustworthiness of the statement. The panel noted that O’Leary detailed his knowledge and understanding of the distribution operation along with his involvement during his grand jury statement. The panel stated that O’Leary estimated that he received four packs at a time and that each pack contained roughly three grams. The panel noted that the operation sold approximately 78 kilograms between 2010-2014. The panel stated that, based on O’Leary’s account, O’Leary would have distributed 280 grams of cocaine in about 24 days.

The panel then stated that multiple aspects of O’Leary’s grand jury statement were corroborated by independent evidence including the stipulations and the wiretapped telephone calls. The panel concluded by stating that the law did not limit O’Leary’s guilt to the quantities he sold alone, but rather, to that of the entire operation. Based on those totals, the panel stated that the 280 gram threshold would have been met in approximately five days. The panel determined the government provided substantial evidence that corroborated O’Leary’s grand jury testimony, and that this evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conspiracy involved at least 280 grams of crack cocaine. The panel therefore affirmed the decision of the district court.

United States v. John O’Leary IV
No. 18-1931
Writing for the court: Judge William J. Bauer
Concurring: Judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Daniel A. Manion
Released: April 27, 2020