United States v. Makkar, No. 14-5147 (10th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Defendant-appellants Iqbal Makkar and Gaurav Sehgal ran the “Gitter Done,” a small town convenience store in northeastern Oklahoma. Questions surfaced about a certain incense they carried on their shelves. The men spoke with state law enforcement officers, offered to have the officers test the incense to determine its legality, and offered as well to stop selling the product until the results came in. Ultimately they were indicted and convicted for violating the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act (Analogue Act), conspiracy, and money laundering. In this appeal defendants argued that the trial court erred in instructing the jury, and for excluding evidence of their cooperation with law enforcement. “The government’s instructional inference invited the jury to infer the presence of one essential element from another, effectively collapsing two independent statutory inquiries into one. … the fact that one drug produces a similar effect to a second drug just doesn’t give rise to a rational inference - let alone rationally suggest beyond a reasonable doubt - that the first drug shares a similar chemical structure with the second drug. And it most certainly does not give rise to a qualifying inference that the first drug shares a similar chemical structure with a third drug - as the government was, in fact, allowed to argue to the jury in this case.” The government argued this error was harmless, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed and vacated both defendants’ convictions.