A federal circuit court rejected claims by a member of a Prince George’s County drug ring that he should not have been sentenced as a “career offender,” despite two previous convictions.
Lancelot Ward and two co-defendants raised a “litany of issues” challenging their October 1996 convictions for conspiracy to distribute and possess heroin and cocaine in a drug ring that prosecutors said was “a staple in the Prince George’s County drug world.”
But a three-judge panel for the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all the claims in a ruling issued Monday in Richmond.
Ward, Bernard Gibson Jr. and Kevin Cox were part of a drug ring in Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C., that prosecutors said was run by Bernard Gibson Sr. and had direct links to Colombia.
U. S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson said the operation began in 1991 when the elder Gibson got out of jail. It ran until 1994, when FBI wire-taps of Gibson Sr.’s mobile and home telephones let the FBI bring charges. More than 15 indictments came down and several life sentences were handed out to key people in the drug ring.
Ward’s initial sentence was quickly replaced by a stiffer sentence after prosecutors argued successfully that he should have been sentenced as a career offender.
In order to be sentenced as a career offender, a criminal must have at least two previous convictions for drug offenses or crimes of violence. Prosecutors argued that Ward’s 1982 bank robbery conviction and a later conviction in Virginia for conspiracy to commit robbery were both crimes of violence and the judge agreed, resentencing Ward under the stiffer standard.
But Ward’s attorney said his client “did not have two prior crimes.”
“Conspiracy of any crime under Virginia (law) is not a crime of violence,” said Fred W. Bennett, who said the court did not have a reason to resentence Ward. “Basically, it just changed its mind.”
But the appellate court ruled that the lower court was justified in resentencing Ward, since its first sentence was imposed under a “misperception” of the law.
The judges also rejected Ward’s claim that FBI agents improperly forced their way into his home to search it. The court said that the agents waited a sufficient 60 seconds and had knocked and identified themselves before forcing their way into the home.
The court upheld the district court’s decision to allow 472 grams of heroin that were seized in that search to be used as evidence against Ward in his sentencing.
The court also found that issues raised by the younger Gibson and Cox were “without merit.”
Gibson had argued that a handgun found in his apartment — along with a Rolex watch and a wad of $1,055 — was not linked to drug dealing and should not have been allowed as evidence in his case.
“It’s unfair to make that connection,” said Gibson’s attorney, Deborah N. Abramson. She said Gibson had a legally registered gun that he used for “target practice” and the cash was for his rent.
But the appellate judges said that gun possession and ownership are “logically relevant in many drug conspiracies” and that it is up to the district courts to decide on a case-by-case basis.
Neither Abramson nor Bennett could say whether they would appeal, saying Tuesday they had not talked to their clients on the ruling. But Abramson noted that her client, who is currently in jail, has nothing to lose by continued appeals.