Man Charged with Federal Conspiracy. (United States v. Willie Culley)
The United States Government accused and charged Willie Culley with conspiracy to possession controlled substances (crack) with intent to deliver. The indictment alleged that Mr. Culley conspired with a confidential informant to distribute about six (6) ounces of crack and to prove their case they had it on tape!
Mr. Willie Culley came in to Coxwell & Associates for representation on this Federal Indictment. A conviction would have meant approximately fourteen to nineteen years in a Federal prison. There are standard steps every lawyer should take when defending a person. The first is spend adequate time with the client so you can get to know him/her as a person. There is good in almost everyone. Next the lawyer should obtain what in legal terms is called the “Discovery.”
All Courts have rules regarding discovery. The Rules usually permit the accused to get a copy of the government’s witnesses, any statements by those witnesses, scientific or expert reports and other similar materials. The United States Supreme Court has unequivocally held that prosecutors must turn over to the accused/defense all material that is exculpatory and effects the guilt or sentencing phase of the trial.
In Mr. Culley’s case there was a tape recording of Mr. Culley discussing the purchase of six (6) ounces of cocaine. The tape was hard to hear and had huge swaths of slang, but the purported drug conversations were clearly on the tape. It looked bad, but the Chinese have an expression that it often looks darkest before the light. Mr. Culley was provided the tape to review.
Fortunately Mr. Culley could hear something on the tape that the government did not include on their written transcript. It was one simple statement. The trial started. The jury got a thorough voir dire on the importance and value of following the letter of the law. During opening this theme was repeated and the attorneys at Coxwell & Associates assured the jury they would be truthful with them. Then the attorneys admitted to the jury that Mr. Culley did indeed discuss buying crack cocaine from the confidential informant, but they told the jury Mr. Culley was “not guilty” if the jury would keep an open mind.
Some people might wonder if Coxwell & Associates attorneys were crazy. How could you admit to the jury that your client had drug discussions when the charge was a conspiracy? Well, the trial progressed as you might expect. All in all it was a low key trial until the confidential informant came forward with the tape. It got exciting at that point because at the very end of the tape Mr. Culley could be heard saying, “No, I don’t think I am going to do anything with you.” This seemingly simple but important statement was nowhere on the government’s transcript.
The Federal Judge instructed the jury that preliminary negotiations between a buyer and a seller do not necessarily constitute a conspiracy. There must be a meeting of the minds. The instructions were good. In closing argument the Coxwell & Associate attorneys went straight to the heart of the matter. They reminded the jury of voir dire and the importance of following the law even if they did not like what an accused was doing. They presented the jury instructions and argued there was no meeting of the minds between Mr. Culley and the confidential informant. The argument was similar to this: Ladies and gentlemen, if you went to buy a car and stayed all day bargaining for the car but did not buy it. Could the dealership sue you the next day and say you had to buy the car? No they could not because there was no meeting of the minds .
It took the jury about fifteen minutes to reach a verdict of not guilty. Months later a juror walked up to the Coxwell & Associates attorney and said he was one of the members of the Culley jury. The juror said, “You know, it was just like you said. Mr. Culley went to buy drugs but there was no deal, no meeting of the minds. We had to follow our oaths and find him not guilty.”
This was a case that looked hopeless on first sight. It just goes to show that if you hire an attorney who has real experience and who cares for what happens to the client, good things can often happen when they otherwise look bad.