WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand the conviction of a Pakistani man who argued that a federal judge improperly refused to let him claim entrapment for a 1998 arrest with heroin in Baltimore.
Not only did U.S. District Judge William Nickerson refuse to tell jurors in the case to consider Mohammad Abdullah’s entrapment defense, he went on to give them an “anti-entrapment” instruction.
After hearing the evidence in the case, Nickerson told jurors they “should ignore any suggestion or concept that may have been raised in your mind that entrapment might be an issue.” He said that if Abdullah was “ready and willing to violate the law,” he could not claim to have been entrapped.
Abdullah, a ship steward, said he did not know that the sandals he was wearing when he came ashore in Baltimore on June 16, 1998, had 745.9 grams of heroin concealed in the soles.
He said he was told to wear the shoes by Afsar Bahadur, an ex-heroin smuggler who had been recruited by a U.S. Customs agent. Abdullah said he only learned that the sandals were packed with drugs moments before his arrest, when Bahadur informed him of the heroin.
But Bahadur told a different story, saying Abdullah asked if he knew anyone who wanted to buy heroin. That is when Bahadur referred Abdullah to Customs Special Agent Dennis Bass, who offered about $80,000 for one kilogram of heroin.
Abdullah’s attorneys claimed in opening arguments in his trial in federal district court that their client was entrapped. But Nickerson threw out that defense, and the jury convicted Abdullah of heroin importation and possession with intent to distribute on Dec. 11, 1998.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the importation conviction earlier this year but let stand the distribution charge, for which Abdullah is now serving 151 months in a federal penitentiary.
Abdullah’s attorneys, Atiq Ahmed and Paul Jorgensen, said that the conviction should have been reversed because Nickerson wrongly prohibited the jury from regarding the entrapment defense.
Jorgensen said that Nickerson was bucking Supreme Court precedent by “using a standard that is really based on a judge’s subjective assessment.” He said the high court has permitted defendants to explain why they have been misled and the jury is left to determine if there was indeed entrapment.
“It is not something that he (Abdullah) has to explain to a judge,” said Jorgensen. “The jury is allowed to consider the facts and decide.
“What we are asking the Supreme Court to do is to explain what the elements of entrapment are,” Jorgensen said last week.
Ahmed added that entrapment “is an area of law that needs a fresh look by the Supreme Court. . .because there is substantial overreaching.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Harding said that Nickerson did not prevent the jury from considering all available information.
“We certainly thought that the judge properly conducted himself,” said Harding. “There was no evidence of government inducement.”
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