United States v. Bell, No. 16-1325 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
In 2010, more than 100 people, including Bell, were arrested as part of the “Operation Blue Knight” investigation. In 2012, Bell and Walter were both charged with conspiring to sell more than 1,000 grams of heroin, 21 U.S.C. 846 and were convicted. The court sentenced Walter to 335 months and Bell to 276 months. The government’s case rested on evidence that Bell was inexplicably wealthy, physical samples of heroin seized from organization members, and expert testimony about drug trafficking. There were no controlled buys or recorded incriminating statements. The government’s case hinged on testimony from seven witnesses that had been charged with drug crimes; six were testifying pursuant to agreements that held out the possibility of reduced sentences. Bell’s lawyer elicited testimony that three of those witnesses had been arrested during the investigation but avoided revealing two instances in which Bell sold heroin in controlled buys, and that he was arrested in 2010 for doing so. The prosecution then elicited testimony about a recording of Bell selling heroin to a confidential informant. The prosecution also failed to disclose a damaging remark by one of its witnesses about a key government witness, who was a career criminal and relatively senior organization member. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the “Brady” error required new trials for both defendants.