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Ninth Circuit on Use of Drug Jargon to Establish Drug Quantities

Ninth Circuit on Use of Drug Jargon to Establish Drug QuantitiesThe interpretation of fairly arcane drug jargon could provide a sufficient basis to determine the quantity of drugs an individual was conspiring to distribute, a Ninth Circuit panel held Wednesday in United States v. Rosales , No. 05-30260.

The drug traffickers in this case had a style of jargon that was almost lawyerly, frequently using words like “document” and “notarize” to describe aspects of their transactions.  On the basis of some of this decoded jargon, a jury concluded that enough evidence existed to determine that the defendant had conspired to distribute more than  500 grams of cocaine.  In particular, it looked at the following exchange, which was captured in a wiretap:

GARCIA-TRUJILLO: [I was calling] to see . . . to see how many titles you had.

ROSALES: Yeah, half of what he tol . . . the . . .what Genaro told you.

GARCIA-TRUJILLO: Oh, How many is it? Eight?

ROSALES: Yes. And then like in one week already, all the rest will be there.

GARCIA-TRUJILLO: All right.

The court provides the following gloss on that exchange:

Rosales concedes that “[a] reasonable juror could have found that Rosales obtained cocaine from Garcia-Trujillo and transferred it to Brooks.” Thus, Garcia-Trujillo, as a seller, would be interested in the price to be paid to him, and a juror could infer that the word “titles” in the April 25 conversation referred to money. Expert testimony was presented that the going rate for a kilogram of cocaine was $16,000, and that when drug dealers discuss money they usually leave off the zeros. A juror could infer that Rosales was offering to buy $16,000 worth of cocaine, a kilogram, when he stated that he would pay 8 “titles” now and 8 “titles” in another week. Thus, it would have been foreseeable to Rosales that the conspiracy involved at least 500 grams — half a kilogram — of cocaine.

That seems like quite an interpretive leap, but the court notes that there was a significant amount of additional evidence, including other conversations and some physical evidence, that bolstered the conclusions about how much cocaine was involved in this transaction.

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