This post wraps up the review of new Seventh Circuit criminal opinions that I began yesterday. In United States v. Fox (Nos. 07-3830 & 07-3831), defendants Fox and Sykes were convicted of various drug trafficking offenses. Fox was in the habit of getting high with Sykes at Sykes’s house. In order to support his habit, Sykes sold drugs to others, and, on an uncertain number of occasions, had Fox make drug deliveries to customers on his behalf. Fox and Sykes were arrested after they participated in a drug sale to an undercover cop, and forty grams of crack cocaine were found by police in Sykes’s house. The main issue on appeal was whether Fox should be held responsible for those forty grams at sentencing.
Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the quantity of drugs possessed or distributed by a defendant normally dominates the sentencing calculus. Moreover, a defendant is responsible not just for the drugs that he himself possessed or distributed, but also for the drugs foreseeably possessed or distributed by coconspirators in connection with “jointly undertaken criminal activity.” This is a controversial — and, in my view, misguided — feature of the Guidelines that can result in very long sentences for small players in large drug trafficking operations. (My Criminal Law students will recognize parallels between this feature of the Guidelines and the so-called “Pinkerton Rule,” which results in criminal liability for crimes foreseeably committed by one’s coconspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy.)
In Fox, the district court judge determined that Sykes’s possession of forty grams of crack was foreseeable to Fox, and accordingly sentenced Fox as if he had been found in possession of that sizeable quantity of the drug himself. Fox’s sentence was essentially doubled as a result of this decision.