U.S. v. Aidoo, No. 10-4752

Decided Feb. 29, 2012

After receiving intelligence that Frank Aidoo was involved with smuggling drugs, officers at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport stopped him when departing from a flight from Ghana. Police eventually discovered that Aidoo was transporting nearly a kilogram of heroin inside his body. Attempting to reduce his sentence under the “safety valve” provision, Aidoo asserted that this was the only time he had ever smuggled drugs and provided the name “Kofi” as his contact. The government asked him about his passport and his many trips to America and Europe to which Aidoo responded he would buy clothing in foreign countries and then take it back to his native Ghana to resell. Finding this story implausible and determining that Aidoo had not been truthful with investigators, the district court denied Aidoo the safety valve and sentenced him to 60 months in prison.

“The safety-valve statute requires sentencing courts to disregard any statutory mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant establishes that: (1) he does not have more than one criminal history point; (2) he did not use or threaten violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon; (3) the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury; (4) he was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others; and (5) he truthfully provided the government with all evidence and information about the offense and related offenses.” The safety valve, however, is not guaranteed and the burden of showing that one is entitled to it rests solely with the defendant.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that Aidoo had not satisfied his burden of showing that he was truthful with the government about this past international travels. Furthermore, it was not plain error for the district court to hear the government’s untimely objection to the PSR that recommended granting the safety valve because Aidoo never objected to the government’s argument. The court, therefore, affirmed Aidoo’s sentence.

Judge Gregory filed a dissenting opinion wherein he argued that Aidoo provided plenty of truthful information to the government and that their mere conjecture that Aidoo’s past travels were related to drug smuggling was not enough to deny him the safety valve.

Full Opinion

-C. Alexander Cable

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