WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court panel has ordered a new sentencing hearing for a Baltimore drug dealer who got 27.5 years in prison, ruling that a lower court erred by not sentencing Rolando Stockton as a “career offender.”
The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Stockton’s 2001 convictions on heroin trafficking and firearms offenses, but said that his previous two drug convictions should have been held against him at sentencing.
“His criminal history . . . and the facts presented at trial, indicates that Stockton has been entrenched in the drug trade since at least 1990,” said Circuit Judge Karen J. Williams, who wrote the opinion. “Stockton is the very portrait of a career offender, and his classification as such does not over-represent his actual criminal history.”
Under sentencing guidelines for a career offender, Stockton could get up to 40 years.
Stockton was convicted in 2001 for his part in a heroin trafficking conspiracy run out of the Park Heights neighborhood in Baltimore. Charges included “conspiracy to distribute, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin from 1994 to April 2000,” the opinion said.
Prosecutors said that “members of the conspiracy used violence to enforce discipline . . . and used violence to keep those outside the conspiracy from interfering,” the opinion said.
“Witnesses (at trial) described a criminal enterprise that established a market for the distribution of heroin in the mid-1990s, and ruthlessly protected that market through 2001,” Judge Williams wrote.
The government said Stockton tried to kill Ricky Ricardo Jones as part of the conspiracy, but ended up wounding another man, who testified against him. But Stockton said he actually comforted Jones in that May 1999 confrontation, which ended with a hug — a story Jones corroborated on the stand.
Stockton testified that he had never met Jones before that day.
Prosecutors asked why Stockton was calling Jones as a witness if they had never met. In closing arguments, the government also asked why Stockton had not called his girlfriend Tasha Gray to the stand. Her story for the prosecution contradicted the testimony of Stockton and Jones.
The trial judge let the statement about Gray stand, but ordered the statement about Jones stricken from the record, calling it “preposterous” and “absolutely nonsense.”
At sentencing, Stockton argued that the prosecution over-represented his two prior drug convictions, from 1990 and 1991, saying those felonies should not count separately against him because both were for drug dealing in the same Baltimore neighborhood. The district court agreed and considered those two convictions as one, handing Stockton a sentence of 27.5 years.
Both Stockton and the government appealed.
Stockton argued that the government’s statements about Jones and Gray had denied him his right to a fair trial, claiming that the “evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdict on each of the counts of conviction.”
But the court disagreed, saying that that the prosecution’s case was sound.
It dealt a double blow to Stockton by agreeing with prosecutors that he was a “career offender,” and sending the case back to district court for sentencing.
Stockton’s attorney, G. Godwin Oyewole, said Tuesday he had not seen the opinion and could not comment on it. He did not know whether his client would appeal.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office said the office does not comment on cases in which there could be future appeals.