US v. Dickerson, 06-2471. A guy was sentenced to life in prison. As you know, many people are happy when this happens, because lifetime incarceration is the height of human accomplishment. So, it is merely a technicality as to why he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a taxpayer-funded hole. As you may know, 21 U.S.C. § 851 requires that the government, when beginning the process to put someone in jail file “file an information with the court (and serves a copy of such information on the person or counsel for the person) stating in writing the previous convictions to be relied upon” in triggering a mandatory minium sentence. 21 U.S.C. § 851 requires a colloquy in which the District Court judge asked the guy the government wants to put in jail for a long time whether he wants to contest the validity of the prior convictions. The District Court judge did not do it. But, the First says that it is harmless error if the convictions are more than five years old (as the statute’s limitations period provides). The defendant apparently made an argument that there was mistaken identity issues (in that some other guy named Dickerson was convicted of crimes in the past), but the First says that he didn’t argue them below and he really is not making specific arguments at the Court of Appeals. The First rejects the argument that somehow the formality makes it really possible that the defendant might not have known what was going on. But, the First says that there would have needed to be a written response objecting to the use of the prior convictions, anyway. (The First seems to be under the impression that clients are straight with their lawyers about their prior convictions and the lawyers will always know the extent of their priors as soon as they are informed of the filed information.)
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There is a suppression issue which I don’t think the First understands the significance of. There was a warrant for his house and his Range Rover. But not for his Toyota. Neither was in motion. The cops found drugs in the Toyota. The First says that the auto exception applies. Unfortunately, the First relies on some silly stuff about a an “experienced” police officer figuring out that because there was no secret compartment in the Range Rover there was in the Toyota. Whatever the case, the First doesn’t really deal with the issue of how the car wasn’t really mobile at the time and whether or not that matters.
As to drug quantity, the First begins by saying “Drug quantity and type generally must be determined by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt before a defendant may receive a sentence in excess of the default statutory maximum.” under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000). But, in this case, the jury wasn’t explicitly told that the drug quantities needed to be found beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the court said that it CAN’T find him guilty under a lesser standard. But, he didn’t object. Whatever the case, the First says that there was no error, because “A special verdict form can cure a potential Apprendi problem.” (But it notes that it may be a better practice to do a little better in the future when other people are being sent to jail for life.)