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United States v. Howard-Arias

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
679 F.2d 363 (1982)


Facts

The crew of a fishing trawler called the “Don Frank” was taken on board an Italian ship after the Don Frank became disabled off the coast of Virginia. When the Coast Guard arrived, an officer boarded the Don Frank and discovered marijuana. The Coast Guard attempted to tow the Don Frank to shore, but the Don Frank sank. The Coast Guard retrieved approximately 240 bales of marijuana from the sunken boat and at the port, turned over the marijuana bales to Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) special agents. The United States (US) (plaintiff) charged Howard-Arias (defendant), a crewmember on the Don Frank, with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute while on a vessel within United States jurisdiction. At trial, the US introduced the marijuana into evidence through the testimony of the Coast Guard officer who seized and tested the marijuana, the officer to whom the initial Coast Guard officer surrendered the seized marijuana, the DEA custodian at Norfolk, and the DEA chemist. The DEA special agent at the port who received the marijuana for transportation to the DEA in Norfolk did not testify. Howard-Arias was convicted and appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, claiming that the marijuana should not have been admitted in evidence because the testimony failed to establish the chain of custody of the marijuana from the time of seizure until its introduction at trial.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Kaufman, J.)

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