Friday, May 2, 2014

North Carolina man sentenced to 16 to 22 years for arranging $20 marijuana sale

Earlier this week, a federal District Court in North Carolina rejected the habeas petition of a man who was sentenced to consecutive terms of 101-131 months (roughly 16 - 22 years) for his role in arranging the sale of $20 worth of marijuana.  The petitioner, Robin Eugene Land, argued the sentence was cruel and unusual and that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel.  Land's lengthy sentence was tied to North Carolina's habitual felon statute but the opinion doesn't appear to shed light on what his prior offenses were (neither, from a brief review, does the state appeals court's decision on direct review.)  

In any event, whatever his prior record, Land will be spending the next 16 to 22 years in prison for arranging (not selling but arranging) a marijuana sale.  Oh, and the whole thing began with an undercover cop driving around asking for people to help him find marijuana.

Here are the facts from this depressing case (PDF):  

The State’s evidence tended to show the following facts. On the evening of 14 August 2009, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Andrew A. Demaioribus was working as part of a team targeting street-level narcotic sales by conducting undercover buy operations on Charlotte city streets. While working undercover, Officer Demaioribus wore plain clothes and drove alone in an unmarked car. Additional police units stayed within two blocks of Officer Demaioribus’ location to provide assistance in the event that Officer Demaioribus' safety was compromised. 


At about 11:25 p.m., Officer Demaioribus observed defendant in front of a residence. Officer Demaioribus pulled over and asked defendant if defendant could help him “get some green,” to which defendant replied, “Yeah. I can get you some.” Defendant then got into Officer Demaioribus’ vehicle. Defendant instructed Officer Demaioribus to drive to several residences in the area in search of marijuana.


Before defendant left the car at the first residence, Officer Demaioribus handed defendant a $20 bill. Defendant was unable to locate marijuana at the first few residences. When they arrived at the last location, defendant got out of the car, walked out of sight, and returned after one or two minutes. In defendant’s absence, Officer Demaioribus relayed his location to other officers using a cell phone. When defendant got back into the car, Officer Demaioribus asked, “Have you got my stuff?” Defendant replied, “Yeah. I got your shit. I got it.” Defendant then handed Officer Demaioribus two baggies containing a green substance that Officer Demaioribus thought was marijuana.


After the transaction was complete, Officer Demaioribus gave a “take down signal” to inform other officers that defendant should be arrested. Defendant instructed Officer Demaioribus to drive him to a nearby store. Officer Demaioribus dropped defendant off in the store's parking lot and immediately radioed to a supporting officer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Derek E. Rud, to provide a description of defendant. Officer Rud pulled into the store’s parking lot and arrested defendant. Although he searched defendant pursuant to the arrest, Officer Rud did not locate the $20 bill Officer Demaioribus had given defendant. Subsequently, chemical analysis indicated that the substance in the baggies was 2.03 grams of marijuana.


On 24 August 2009, defendant was indicted for possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana and for delivering cocaine. Defendant was additionally indicted for selling marijuana. Subsequently, on 2 November 2009, the State obtained a superseding indictment charging defendant with delivering marijuana. In addition, defendant was indicted for being a habitual felon.

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I read this post and was amazed at the length of the sentence to the extent that I had to know the basis. It took a decent amount of digging but I was able to obtain information on the nature of the habitual offender charge through PACER. Some of the documents related to prior criminal history are so poorly scanned that they are unreadable. The following is from the transcript when the judge was instructing the jury:

"the defendant has been charged with being a habitual felon. A habitual felon is an individual who has been convicted of or pled guilty to felony offenses on at least three separate occasions since July 6, 1967 ... For you to find the defendant guilty of being a habitual felon, the State must prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt. First, that on January 24, 1985, the defendant, in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, was convicted of the felony of breaking or entering that was committed on August 25, 1984, in violation of the law of the State of North Carolina.

Second, that on July 21st, 1992, the defendant, in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, was convicted of the felony of robbery with a dangerous weapon that was committed on September 3, 1991, in violation of the law of the State of North Carolina.

And third, that on October 18, 2000, the defendant, in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, was convicted of the felony of possession of firearm by felon that was committed on March 8, 2000, in violation of the law of the State of North Carolina."

From what I can make out on the original charge documents the sentences from the original felony charges were: (1) Breaking and Entering [additional charge of felony possession stolen goods] - 6 years for both charges; (2) Robbery with a dangerous weapon - 15 years [I cannot read anything else on the document]; (3) Possession of firearm by a felon - 2 years. The sentencing worksheet then assigns him the highest Prior Record Level of VI and the judge indicates on the worksheet that there is 1 prior felony class B2 or C or D conviction; 5 prior felony class H or I conviction; and 8 prior class A1 or 1 misdemeanor convictions. The Prior Conviction report lists 39 separate convictions dating back to 1979.

Even after looking at his prior history I am still uncomfortable with the length of the sentence. An undercover officer trolling for "some green" led to the defendant being convicted of what is close to a life sentence. One could argue that his prior history warrants such a lengthy sentence, but I think trying to sneak that type of sentence in via a habitual offender charge tacked onto a marijuana possession charge is disingenuous.

Posted by: Sean | May 5, 2014 5:38:41 PM

Sean, thanks so much for this comment! This is very interesting information. I agree completely with you about the sentence. Whatever his priors, it is hard for me to think of a good justification for imprisoning someone for any significant period of time (let alone 16-22 years) for facilitating a $20 marijuana sale at a time when about 1/2 the country thinks the drug should be outright legal. Plus, it sounds like this guy didn't even profit from the transaction since he was found without the money on him. ... Anyway, thanks again for this comment!

Posted by: Alex Kreit | May 6, 2014 2:20:42 AM

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