A recent Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision sent an implicit message to drug dealers across the country: If you’re going to sell drugs, make sure it’s the good stuff.
In U.S. v. Villarreal, defendant David Villarreal was caught with 8.4 kilograms of cocaine. 2.5 kilograms were of .41% purity and the remaining 5.9 kilograms were of 3.2% purity. At issue was the legality of his sentence pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), which allows for a minimum of 10 years and maximum of life in prison for possession with intent to distribute “5 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of” cocaine. Villarreal argued that even though the statute does allow for enhanced penalties for drug mixtures, his cocaine was of such poor quality that it doesn’t even qualify as a mixture under the statute.
Unfortunately for Villarreal, a Supreme Court case from 1991 addresses Villarreal’s argument precisely. In Chapman v. U.S., the Supreme Court ruled that under § 841(b), the full weight of a mixture of diluted LSD may be considered to determine guilt and sentencing. Applying Chapman to Villarreal, the sentencing court was free to consider the weight of Villarreal’s entire mixture. Interestingly (but inconsequentially), it chose not to consider the 2.5 kilos of .41% cocaine, calling it “junk”. The Court only took the 5.9 kilos of 3.2% purity cocaine into consideration.
Perhaps most damaging to Villarreal’s case was the testimony of an expert witness. A chemist testified that even cocaine with quality as low as 3.2% is potent enough that it can “be ingested by a drug consumer”. As such, Villarreal was faced with possession with intent to distribute 5.9 kilos of usable, albeit poor quality, cocaine.
Analyzing Villarreal, one can conclude that the Court unintentionally gave drug dealers a bit of advice for their own good: If you’re going to sell drugs, make sure your product is either 1) Such high quality that, if caught, you won’t get an enhanced sentence for fillers adding to the weight of the mixture, or 2) Such low quality that you are a peddler of “junk” drugs.
What do you think…should fillers be considered for the purposes of sentencing? Let us know in the comment section.