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Wilkins v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 3, 2014

LARRY WILKINS, Petitioner, Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent, Appellee

Page 25

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Richard G. Stearns, U.S. District Judge.

George F. Gormley, with whom Stephen P. Super and George F. Gormley, P.C. were on brief, for appellant.

Dina Michael Chaitowitz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Selya and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 26

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

In August of 2012, Massachusetts was rocked by the disclosure that Annie Dookhan, a chemist at a state testing laboratory, had falsely certified drug-test results. These revelations called into question a large number of federal and state drug convictions. This case is near the head of the parade: it marks the first time that this court has had the occasion to deal with the effect of Dookhan's skullduggery on a federal criminal conviction.

The architecture of the case is easily described. Petitioner-appellant Larry Wilkins was charged in federal court with a drug-distribution offense; the drugs were sent to the state testing laboratory; and Dookhan thereafter certified that they were crack cocaine. The petitioner subsequently pleaded guilty and went to prison.

When news of the drug-testing scandal broke, the petitioner returned to the district court and filed a motion to set aside his conviction and vacate his guilty plea. The district court refused. Concluding, as we do, that Dookhan's misconduct was not likely to have influenced the petitioner's decision to enter a guilty plea, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

The raw facts are largely undisputed. In April of 2011, an undercover police officer approached Ronald Merritt on the streets of Boston and signaled a desire to buy drugs. After a brief dialogue, the officer handed $40 to Merritt, who went to retrieve the merchandise. As Merritt began to walk away, the putative buyer demanded (and received) Merritt's cell phone as temporary collateral for the $40.

Merritt crossed the street to meet with the petitioner. The petitioner gave something to Merritt, who then returned with a plastic bag presumably containing crack cocaine.

The undercover officer took the bag and returned Merritt's cell phone -- but not before having Merritt dial the officer's number. The two men then parted company.

A cadre of Boston police officers had been anticipating this moment. On the undercover officer's signal, the police arrested both Merritt and the petitioner. A search revealed an additional bag of crack cocaine in Merritt's possession and a cell phone in which the undercover officer's number resided atop the call history.

The petitioner's stockpile of contraband was considerably larger. In addition to having the undercover officer's " buy" money (the serial numbers of which had been pre-recorded), the petitioner clenched a napkin containing five bags of what appeared to be crack cocaine. While en route to the police station, the petitioner discarded thirty more bags, which fell to the floor of ...


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