Judges affirm drug dealer’s convictions but vacate portion of sentence


Jennifer Nelson for www.theindianalawyer.com

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a man’s claims that his convictions stemming from his involvement in a drug dealing operation should be overturned, but the judges did vacate the conditions of his supervised release Friday.

The FBI obtained a warrant to search several homes involved in suspected drug activity, including a home in Sawmill Woods Court that was only in the name of Booker T. Sewell’s wife. Authorities believed Sewell was involved in a multi-state drug trade. When authorities arrived to execute the search warrant, Sewell admitted that he had marijuana in the house, money in the dishwasher and a gun under his bed. He claimed his wife did not know about the gun.

The search turned up evidence of drug dealing involving marijuana and cocaine. Sewell was charged and later convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and maintaining a place for the purpose of distributing controlled substances.

The federal court attributed between 15 to 50 kilograms of cocaine to Sewell and sentenced him to concurrent terms of 360 and 240 months in prison. He also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release, pay a special assessment and forfeit more than $20,000 recovered during the search of the home.

In United States of America v. Booker T. Sewell, 14-1384, Sewell claimed the warrant to search the home was issued without probable cause, but the judges disagreed. The FBI agents’ affidavit “convinces us that the magistrate judge had a substantial basis for his probable-cause finding. Three primary factors produce this result: (1) the recorded conversations; (2) the corroborating evidence; and (3) the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom. These factors weave together a stout fabric of probable cause, rightly resulting in the magistrate judge’s issuance of the warrant,” Judge Michael Kanne wrote.

There was also sufficient evidence to support that Sewell possessed the gun, not his wife, and to support the amount of drugs attributable to him. But the judges did vacate the portion of his sentencing involving supervised release based on recent decisions in United States v. Thompson, handed down in January, and United States v. Siegel, 753 F.3d 705 (7th Circ. 2014).

The general rule with regard to conditions of supervised release now requires that they are to fit the particular circumstances of the defendant being sentenced, Kanne wrote, but that was not the case for Sewell. For example, he was ordered to obtain a GED when he already has one and told to not use mood-altering substances. The conditions must be defined in a way that puts defendants on notice of proscribed behavior.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.