November 14, 2013 4th Circuit published opinion and order

United States v Ali et al.

Ali and 16 codefendants were indicted on drug trafficking charges and 13 defendants were also charged with money laundering based on the importation of khat form Africa. Four pled guilty and 13 went to trial. The district court denied their motion for directed verdict arguing the government needs only prove that the defendants knew khat has a controlled substance in it and also charged on willful blindness. The court also refused to allow an expert to testify and did not sever one defendant form the trial. All defendants were convicted with one defendant acquitted on a money laundering charge. The panel affirmed. It held that under 21 USC 846 and 841, the government must prove an intent to traffic a controlled substance not that the defendant knew the chemical composition or name of the controlled substance. It noted that this view has been adopted by every court of appeal to decide the issue. The panel also held that the manner of the handling of the khat and the proceeds gave the defendants warning signs that khat contained controlled substances and the willful blindness charge was appropriate. The panel held the evidence presented was sufficient to prove intent as some defendants stated they knew khat contained a controlled substance and all were recorded discussing ways to avoid police officers, deliveries were made surreptitiously and payments were funneled back to Africa in small amounts often under false names. The panel joined other courts inholding this type of evidence sufficient. The panel affirmed the order as to the expert holding the district court reasonably concluded the expert designation was untimely and in any event the proffered evidence that khat has other stimulants in it beside the controlled substances is not relevant to the issues at trial. The panel held that severance was properly denied as the evidence was brought out on direct examination and there was no meaningful contribution to the case against the moving defendant. The panel finally upheld the money laundering conviction holding that the indictment incorporated by reference the charged transactions and conspiracy can be an underlying offense for money laundering.

Scott v Family Dollar Stores, Inc.

Stores moved for a panel rehearing. The panel denied the motion 2-1. The dissenting judge argued that the opinion allowing the case to proceed based on centralized delegation of decision making authority to middle managers gutted the United States Supreme Court decision in Walmart v Dukes and opened the door for additional abusive class actions in the future.

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