United States v. Muhammad, No. 15-60300 (5th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
After defendant was convicted of violating both the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Analogue Enforcement Act, the district court sentenced him to 120 years in prison. On appeal, the parties agree that the jury instructions regarding the Analogue Act were erroneous because they omitted an element of the offense. Defendant claimed that the error was structural.
The Fifth Circuit concluded that there is more than enough to demonstrate defendant's knowledge of the chemical structure of the drugs he sold and the controlled substances they mimicked. The court rejected defendant's contention that United States v. Stanford, 823 F.3d 814 (5th Cir. 2016), permits the court to bypass the "thorough examination" of the "whole record" that is required in Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1 (1999). Rather, the court applied the Neder harmless-error standard on the same "functional, case-by-case" basis as usual, and concluded that a jury could not rationally find that the Government failed to prove the knowledge requirement in McFadden v. United States, 576 U.S. 186, 188–89 (2015). Therefore, the court concluded that the omitted element in defendant's jury instruction was harmless. The court rejected defendant's remaining arguments on appeal.