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7th Circuit affirms men’s drug convictions

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In a consolidated appeal brought by two men convicted on charges stemming from a heroin conspiracy, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed their convictions. Ronald Zitt, who went to trial, argued he was entitled to a mistrial. Joshua Wampler pleaded guilty but argued he should be allowed to appeal.

The two were charged in a multi-count, multi-defendant indictment alleging a heroin conspiracy and substantive counts of distribution. Zitt was convicted by a jury of conspiring to distribute and of distributing heroin; Wampler pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute heroin.

At Zitt’s trial, government witness James Summers answered a question saying, “I was in prison while he’s locked up,” referring to Zitt. Zitt’s attorney immediately moved for a mistrial, which was denied. The attorney declined the judge’s other remedies: a recess to investigate whether the two men were in the same facility at the same time or an admonishment to the jury that Summers’ answer was irrelevant.

“Even if we assume for the sake of argument that Summers’s testimony was improper, the statement was not so prejudicial that Zitt was denied a fair trial, so any arguable error would be harmless. Summers’s comment was brief and nondescript and, afterward, Zitt’s criminal history was never mentioned again,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote. “Thus, there was no danger that, because of this fleeting answer, the jury was prevented from fairly evaluating the evidence.”

“Finally, any impact Summers’s quick reference to Zitt’s past jail time may have had on the jury is outweighed by the overwhelming evidence of guilt,” he continued.

Turning to Wampler’s appeal, the judges dismissed his appeal finding he waived his right to appeal as a condition of his plea agreement. Wampler’s appointed attorney concluded that the appeal is frivolous and sought to withdraw. The Circuit judges granted the attorney’s motion to withdraw and denied Wampler’s motion for substitute counsel.

The case is United States of America v. Ronald Zitt and Joshua Wampler, 12-1277, 12-2865.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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