In United States v. Hackley, the Fourth Circuit today affirmed the conviction and sentence for several offenses arising out of a drug conspiracy. Judge Duncan authored the opinion, which was joined in by Judge Davis and Judge Diaz. While the ultimate outcome favors the prosecution, the language in the opinion strikes a cautionary note for federal prosecutors. The opinion begins as follows:
James Richard Hackley (“Hackley”) was convicted of several offenses related to his sale of cocaine base to a government informant and subsequent efforts to have that informant—the lead witness in the government’s case against him—murdered. Hackley challenges his convictions, the joinder of the charges into a single trial, the court’s refusal to grant him new counsel, and his sentence. Although the facts in this case come perilously close to the lower boundary of what we will accept as substantive evidence of a conspiracy to distribute drugs, for the reasons discussed below, we affirm.