Narcotics Kingpin Statute (Part 2)

by | May 23, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Drug Crime, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division continued in relevant part: “When a jury requests clarification, the trial judge is obligated to clear the confusion.” State v. Conway (App. Div. 1984) (citing United States v. McCall, 592 F.2d 1066, 1068 (9th Cir. 1979)). In State v. Parsons, we noted that, “jury questions present a glimpse into a jury’s deliberative process.” (App. Div. 1994). We explained:

A question from a jury during its deliberations means that one or more jurors need help and that the matter is of sufficient importance that the jury is unable to continue its deliberations until the judge furnishes that help. An appropriate judicial response requires the judge to read the question with care to determine precisely what help is needed.

In this instance, we believe the jury question shows that the jury was focusing on whether defendants were high-level members of the network. The trial court’s instruction that elements three and four have to be considered separately is certainly correct. However, by agreeing with the jury that the terms “supervisor” and “high level” are similar, the court may have unwittingly suggested that being a supervisor is sufficient to establish that a defendant occupied a high-level position within the organization.

Furthermore, merely re-reading the initial jury instruction did not address what we deem to be the fundamental import of the jury’s question, which is whether being a supervisor is sufficient to meet the test of holding a high-level position. The answer to that question is no. The two elements must be considered separately because the fourth element requires more than a jury finding that a defendant is a supervisor. As Alexander makes clear, a leader must exercise “substantial authority and control over its operations.” (emphases added). Not every supervisor in the chain of command of a drug trafficking network is categorically deemed to be a leader of that organization. We add that the leader offense focuses on the qualitative level of supervision that is exercised and not just the number of persons who are supervised. See supra note 4 (discussing legislative amendments to clarify that a leader need only supervise or manage a single person).

Cases like this almost always involve wiretaps. Wiretap investigations involve substantial manpower with officers occupying the wire room for long hours where communications are monitored. Additionally, there are officers working long hours in the field. In light of this, the prosecution is almost certainly going to appeal in order to avoid undoing all of the work that was done.