Petty shoplifting does not in and of itself qualify as a crime of dishonesty under Fed. R. Evid. 609.
On August 15, 1991, a suitcase arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York from Lagos, Nigeria, addressed to Doreen Bennett at the Children's Home and Aid Society in Joliet, Illinois. Upon inspection, a customs inspector at the airport discovered that the inner shell of the suitcase contained a plastic bag with 431 grams of 91 percent pure heroin. Four days later, posing as a delivery man, a special agent dropped off the package to its addressee, Doreen Bennett, at the Children's Home. When Bennett has opened the package, signaled by a radio transmitter placed by the special agent inside the suitcase, the agents entered the Children's Home. The agents then discovered Bennett kneeling down in front of the open valise and beginning to peel back the lining. Claiming to be ignorant of the illicit contents, Bennett agreed to cooperate with agents by delivering the suitcase to a friend: Ihuoma R. Amaechi. She said it was Amaechi who had asked her to receive the package in the first place. Followed by the federal agents with whom Bennett had agreed to cooperate, Bennett met Amaechi at the bar. Amaechi asked for the suitcase and Bennett told him it was in her automobile. After a drink she drove Amaechi to his car, and after transferring the suitcase to the trunk of his car, defendant was arrested. Amaechi was indicted for attempting to possess with intent to distribute 523.2 grams of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. The statute contemplated that a person convicted of attempting to commit a crime defined in the Drug Abuse Prevention Control Act is subject to the same penalties as those who succeed in committing the crime. In this case, knowing or intentional possession with intent to distribute an illicit or counterfeit substance. Defendant's defense was that he was framed by a jealous half-brother named Vincent, who has taken the stand in order to prove that he set his brother up. Vincent said that he paid an acquaintance to plant drugs in the suitcase so that Ihuoma would be arrested. However, the jury, after finding several inconsistencies in Vincent’s testimony, convicted Ihuoma Amaechi and sentenced him to 112 months in prison plus a life term of supervised release. Defendant appealed his conviction and disputed his enhanced sentence.
Was the conviction proper?
The Court affirmed the conviction and held that there was enough circumstantial evidence, which included defendant's control over others and over where the shipment would be directed, to suggest that defendant played a central role such that the trial judge was justified in finding that defendant was a leader in the conspiracy. The Court found that expert testimony was admissible in drug cases as to prices and quantities, from which an intent to distribute could be inferred. The Court held that it was proper to exclude a witness's prior shoplifting conviction because Fed. R. Evid. 609 only allowed evidence of a prior conviction for impeachment if the punishment could exceed one year or involved dishonesty, and petty shoplifting did not in and of itself qualify under Rule 609. However, the Court found that defendant's sentence was an extraordinary, upward departure from the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual, and it remanded for resentencing.