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Federal Court Explains Constructive Amendment of an Indictment in Florida Drug Crime Case

by Hanlon Law

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution provides that a defendant can only be convicted of the crimes charged in the indictment. In some cases, the court will allow a conviction despite the fact that the evidence produced is insufficient to prove the specific crime listed in the indictment. A conviction for a crime other than the crimes listed in the indictment is often based on a constructive amendment of the indictment which is impermissible and can result in a reversal of the conviction.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently explained the grounds for a reversal based on a constructive amendment in a case where the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to distribute one of the four drugs listed in the indictment. If you are charged with a crime and currently live in Tampa, it is wise to obtain the services of a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney to help you seek the best possible legal outcome under the facts of your case.

The Defendant’s Indictment and Conviction

Reportedly, the indictment charged the defendant with conspiring to distribute a controlled substance. The indictment listed four drugs as the controlled substances the defendant allegedly conspired to distribute. Following a trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of conspiring to distribute as to only one of the drugs listed. The defendant appealed, arguing that the court constructively amended the indictment to allow the government to obtain a conviction due to evidence that the defendant conspired to distribute only one of the drugs rather than all four.

Constructive Amendment of an Indictment

An impermissible constructive amendment of an indictment can occur when either the evidence produced at trial or the instructions provided to the jury deviate from the allegations in the indictment. In assessing whether an indictment has been constructively amended, the court will determine whether the essential elements of the offense in the indictment have been changed to enlarge the grounds for conviction beyond what is in the indictment.

Here, the defendant was charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. The court noted that to obtain a conviction, the government only needed to prove that the defendant conspired to distribute a controlled substance. The court held that the amounts or types of drugs listed are not elements of the crime. Therefore, the government’s failure to prove the defendant conspired to distribute the amount or type of drug cited in the indictment is not grounds for a reversal based on constructive amendment of an indictment. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Set Up a Consultation with a Skilled Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

The government is not permitted to amend the crimes charged to fit the evidence produced at trial. If you live in Tampa and are facing criminal charges, it is important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who is well versed in both state and federal law and will work hard to help you seek a favorable outcome. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a trusted Tampa criminal defense attorney who will aggressively advocate on your behalf to help you protect your rights. Mr. Hanlon can be reached at 813-228-7095 or through the online form to set up a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Proposed Florida Law Gives Judges More Discretion in Sentencing Drug Offenders, November 8, 2017, Tampa Criminal Lawyer Blog

Florida Appeals Court Affirms Aggravated Battery Conviction but Overturns Conspiracy to Deliver Cannabis Conviction, October 10, 2017, Tampa Criminal Lawyer Blog

Posted in: Drug Crimes

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