WASHINGTON – A federal court this week rejected the appeal of a Baltimore drug dealer who claimed that his 30-year sentence for dealing heroin, cocaine and crack was too harsh.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the conviction of Christopher White Jr. was not affected by suppressed evidence, a state trooper’s misstatements on the stand, and his jail time exceeded sentencing guidelines.
White was convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute heroin, cocaine and cocaine base and possession with the intent to distribute and distribution of cocaine.
Court documents said White was a member of a large-scale narcotics conspiracy in Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood from 1994 until his arrest in 1998. He claimed that his sentence should not have been based on the sale of more than 30 kilograms of heroin, since some of the drugs were sold by other while he was in prison.
The assistant U.S. Attorney was surprised by the court’s outright rejection of White’s sentencing argument.
“I had thought that it (the court) might remand it for re-sentencing,” said James M. Webster. “Instead, they adopted my argument. he’s just going to end up with the same sentence anyway.”
The ruling also surprised White’s attorney, George P. Adams.
“I thought that re-sentencing was a distinct possibility,” said Adams, who declined to comment further because he had not read an original copy of the decision.
White argued in the appeal that he could not mount a complete defense because prosecutors failed to provide transcripts of grand jury testimony from two other drug dealers.
He also argued that Maryland State Police Trooper George Cunningham committed perjury when he testified that those two witnesses said White was selling heroin in “regular” and “jumbo” size capsules. White claimed that they never said that in their grand jury testimony.
The court rejected both arguments, finding that the other dealers’ testimony did not affect the case and that Cunningham’s statements were true, based on other sources.
White’s final argument dealt with the length of his sentence. He said that his sentence was enhanced beyond the statutory maximum through the use of factors that should have been proven in front of a jury, including the possession of a gun, the quantity of drugs distributed and details about the membership of the drug conspiracy ring.
White was acquitted of a gun charge in 1999, but the lower court used the presence of a gun to enhance the drug sentence, the appeal argued.
He also said that while the conviction involved the distribution or intent to distribute 30 kilograms of heroin over a number of years, his co-conspirators were responsible for a portion of the drugs. White said he was not responsible for the drugs dealt by the ring during the 14 months he spent in prison during the conspiracy.
White said the length of the sentence and the factors used to enhance it violated a Supreme Court ruling last summer that restricts the use of sentence- enhancing factors which are not proven in front of a jury or that use a different standard of evidence.
The appeals court found that White’s sentence was appropriate, as the 360- month sentence under the guidelines could have been achieved by sentencing White to consecutive sentences of 240 months on the multiple offenses. The sentence did not affect White’s “substantial rights,” the court ruled.