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7th Circuit affirms drug convictions, sentence

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an Indiana man’s convictions and 360-month sentence for drug-related offenses, rejecting his claims that his right to a speedy trial was violated and the starting time of his offenses was incorrectly determined by the District Court.

In United States of America v. Danny Harmon, 12-1502, Danny Harmon was indicted on several drug charges, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. His trial was set for July 18, but the government sought and received one 30-day continuance to gather evidence that since his indictment, Harmon tried to have a witness killed, attempted to intimidate a witness, and attempted to dissipate assets. The trial began Aug. 22, and he was found to have trafficked an average of 113.4 kilograms of marijuana per month for 10 months of the year from December 2001 until January 2011 based on the presentencing report.

Harmon argued that the actual beginning of the trafficking period should have been August 2002, which would have reduced the amount of the drug attributable to him to under 10,000 kilograms, leading to a lesser sentence.

On appeal, he claimed the trial continuance violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and the disclosure of a prior drug conviction by a witness deprived him of a fair trial. He also claimed the District Court erred in its fact finding at sentencing.

The 7th Circuit noted that Harmon’s trial date began within 3 ½ months of the date of his indictment and that the “delay is so short that Harmon cannot get past the threshold requirement.”

In addition, some of the delay was attributable to Harmon. The government brought additional charges of attempted murder, witness intimidation and disposing of assets that didn’t occur until after he was indicted and it had to gather more evidence on these for trial. It does not matter that he was not convicted of these charges.

The judges also found that his second argument – that the District Court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial which was based on the disclosure of his prior drug conviction – didn’t fare any better. A witness mentioned a prior conviction of Harmon's but did not specify it was a drug conviction. Harmon argued the jury didn’t disregard the stricken testimony and that striking the testimony was insufficient to outweigh its prejudicial impact.

“The testimony that Harmon had a prior conviction did not deprive Harmon of a fair trial and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial. And even if there was error in the introduction of the fact of Harmon’s prior conviction, the error was harmless given the overwhelming evidence of guilt on the counts of conviction,” Judge John D. Tinder wrote.

The judges also found it was reasonable for the court to conclude that the conspiracy did not start from scratch when Bradford Raines joined in August 2002 but that it ran for years prior to that. As such, the drug quantity easily exceeded 10,000 kilograms.

 

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