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Drug Sentence Based on Informant Hearsay Upheld

A sentencing court could attribute 321 grams of crack cocaine to defendant, based on testimony by a sheriff’s deputy about a federal agent’s telephone interviews with two paid informants who described drug buys from defendant in order to work off their own criminal charges; the 4th Circuit upholds defendant’s sentence of 135 months on drug and firearm convictions.

We need not vacate defendant’s sentence just because the district court used hearsay evidence to calculate his drug quantity, assuming the court did not clearly err in finding the evidence reliable.

Other than his meritless contention that multiple hearsay evidence is per se unreliable, defendant makes three primary arguments about the lack of reliability in the deputy’s recounting of a federal agent’s telephone interviews with two paid informants – Latta and Ready. First, defendant avers the evidence simply establishes that defendant dealt drugs, not the quantity of drugs the court attributed to him. However, the evidence showed Latta had first-hand knowledge of the drug quantity attributable to defendant and both informants certainly provided information regarding drug quantity.

We also reject defendant’s second contention that the district court erred by using telephone calls as a basis for calculating defendant’s drug quantity. This court has never held that receiving information via telephone renders that information per se unreliable and our sister circuits have refused this argument in other contexts.

The court also rejects defendant’s third argument – that the informants’ statements are unreliable because they are drug users who cooperated with law enforcement officials to “work off” pending felony charges. Although the fact finder can consider a witness’s status as a drug user or criminal history in assessing his or her credibility, this court has not found that these attributes render a witness per se unreliable. In fact, this court has allowed a drug-addicted witness’s estimate to serve as the sole basis for calculating drug quantity. We therefore conclude the informants’ drug use and criminal history does not render them inherently untrustworthy, and the district court retained the discretion to weigh these factors in assessing their credibility.

The deputy testified regarding the women’s previous reliability, explained that he had been able to verify their past information and stated that their information had been used in obtaining arrests and prosecutions. The deputy had observed Latta conducting a controlled purchase of drugs from defendant and saw that they had a relationship. The court explicitly acknowledged that the information was multiple hearsay and the women were drug addicts before finding the deputy’s testimony and the informants’ testimony reliable. We therefore conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in calculating defendant’s drug quantity for sentencing purposes.

Sentence affirmed.

U.S. v. Crawford (Floyd) No. 12-4531, Nov. 1, 2013; USDC at Wilmington, N.C. (Dever) G. Alan DuBois, FPD, for appellant; Yvonne V. Watford-McKinney, AUSA, for appellee. VLW 013-2-201, 12 pp.

VLW 013-2-201

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