In a 2007 Utah case of a drug deal gone bad, the facts have been unclear since the beginning. However, what is known is that one of the defendants was charged with possessing drugs with an intent to distribute, possessing ammunition as a felon, and a firearms charge revolving around either discharging the weapon or aiding and abetting the use of one (although this delves into murky waters again, as it was unclear who actually fired the weapon or had knowledge of it).
These charges led to a sentence of 48 months in prison, plus an addition mandatory sentence of ten years for the firearms charge under Federal law. This conviction was appealed on the basis that the trial judge erroneously instructed the jury regarding the aiding and abetting aspect of the crime, but the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, and the case of Rosemond v. United States continued on to the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 2013.
Who’s on First, and Who Shot Whom? The Case at Hand
In 2007 in Tooele, Utah, Justus Rosemond, a previously convicted felon, and two others were attempting to sell a pound of marijuana in a deal set up by one of Rosemond’s accomplices. Upon arrival at the scene of the crime, the potential buyers inspected the marijuana and then assaulted one of Rosemond’s accomplices and ran. Shots from a 9mm were fired at the thieves, and the would-be-drug dealers gave chase.
Those are the only facts not being disputed. After this point, the details get fuzzy. Regarding the shots fired, testimony was unclear as to who did the actual shooting. Immunity was given to both of Rosemond’s accomplices in exchange for their testimony (but not to the convicted felon Rosemond), but while one of the suspects claimed it was Rosemond, the other said her back was turned and she didn’t see who it was–a change from her earlier statement. Even the testimony of a witness was inconclusive.
These details were considered irrelevant by the prosecution who tried Rosemond under one of two theories, either A) he was the actual shooter, or B) he was guilty of aiding and abetting the drug crime because he knew a gun was used. Notice the last part, “he knew a gun was used.” When the jury brought back a guilty verdict, it was a “general verdict,” meaning that they did not state under which theory they convicted him.
So What Actually Constitutes Aiding and Abetting?
Rosemond didn’t appeal any of the convictions except for the firearms charge which added a mandatory ten years to his sentence. The reason for this mandatory sentence can be found under U.S. Code 924(c), which essentially states that if a weapon is used in the furtherance of a drug crime, someone guilty of aiding and abetting that crime is as guilty as the person who used the gun.
However, in the response from the Supreme Court, they stated that in order to be found guilty of aiding and abetting, the government must prove “that the defendant actively participated in the underlying drug trafficking or violent crime with advance knowledge that a confederate would use or carry a gun during the crime’s commission.”
This “advance knowledge” is different than the prosecution and judge’s direction to the jury that he would be guilty of the aiding and abetting if he “knew his cohort used a firearm in the drug trafficking crime.” The defense maintained that he needed to have acted intentionally “to facilitate or encourage” the firearm’s use.
When the case was taken to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, they agreed with the district court, even though they stated other Circuit Courts had found along the same lines as the defense. They justified this by stating that previous cases in their circuit had already established precedence in this matter.
While the prosecution stated that even if Rosemond didn’t have advanced knowledge that a gun would be used, the fact that the crime continued (via the car chase) after shots had been fired contributed to their argument that the Rosemond facilitated or encouraged the use of the firearm. According to prosecution, he knew that a gun was used, making him guilty of aiding and abetting.
There were various other arguments on both sides of the issue, and when the case was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, both the defense and the judges raised various scenarios to establish whether or not aiding and abetting applied in this case.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that the circumstances surrounding Rosemond’s case did indeed satisfy certain requirements of 924(c), specifically that he acted with intent to bring about the drug trafficking crime and make it successful “with full knowledge of the circumstances constituting the charged offense.” However, they maintained that the instructions to the trial court jury were erroneous in this issue because “they failed to require that Rosemond knew in advance that one of his cohorts would be armed … to decide whether Rosemond knew about the gun in sufficient time to withdraw from the crime.”
In March of this year, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals to determine whether or not this objection was properly preserved and whether the error in instructions was sufficient to cause harm to the final verdict.