United States v. Gadson, a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, involved two defendants (“Defendant 1” and “Defendant 2”) who appealed their respective convictions for possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, and possession of controlled substances. Defendant 2 was also appealing his conviction for retaliation against a witness.
Our Birmingham, Alabama drug defense attorneys understand that convictions involving possession of a controlled substance can carry significant penalties and proper defense requires a detailed understanding of these types of cases. In Alabama, possession of a Schedule II controlled substance, such as a derivative of coca leaves (cocaine), can result in over 20 years in prison, depending on the Defendant’s prior criminal history.
In Gadson, Defendant 1 and Defendant 2 were alleged to be members of a group whose intent was to engage in the sale of large quantities of cocaine. When authorities became aware of their activities, they had a confidential informant (CI) execute two controlled buys of cocaine at the house in which this group was operating. One of these buys took place in the driveway.
After these controlled buys, officers obtained a search warrant and raided the house. No one was home at the time of the raid, but officers claim to have seen footprints in the snow leading away from an open window. The police investigation led them to conclude that footprints belonged to Defendant 1. They believed that he had jumped out of the widow and ran barefoot to his friend’s house.
During their search of the house, officers found one kilogram of cocaine in a shoe box and another shoebox containing another kilogram of cocaine and just under $30,000 in cash. Defendant 2’s fingerprints were on the second shoebox. The officers also found a loaded shotgun, bulletproof vests, crack, ecstasy, marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and other illegal items. Members of the group returned to the town a few weeks later, after things had cooled off, and began selling drugs again until they were arrested shortly thereafter.
While there was an additional investigation and more charges were filed, the main issue in this appeal was that, during trial, the respective defense attorneys attempted to introduce statements that were helpful to their client’s cases. The government objected to the admissibility of these statements on grounds that they were hearsay, and the trial judge sustained those objections.
The general definition of hearsay is an out-of-court statement being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. This is a very complicated rule, but one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule is that a statement may be admitted if it was made against the self-interest of the declarant (speaker). In other words, if someone makes a statement that makes the speaker sound guilty of a crime, the statement is said to be more reliable, because a person typically would not make up a lie to make him or herself seem guilty. In Gadson, the statements were made by other parties who were essentially taking responsibility for part of the criminal actions in this case. While the opinion of the appellate court was not unanimous, and there was a lengthy dissenting opinion, the majority affirmed the trial court’s evidentiary rulings.