Strategy: Keep it simple.
In connection with a government sting operation, the client was convicted of conspiracy to rob a cocaine stash house under the Hobbs Act. The alleged conspirators were to meet in the parking lot of El Tropico restaurant in Miami, break into the stash house, and steal drugs. Multiple defendants, including the client, were convicted and incarcerated. Lara Grillo was appellate counsel for the defendant. She briefed and argued the client’s appeal in the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that although her client was in contact with the conspirators and admitted to knowledge of a drug transaction, the government failed to prove that he knew the object of the charged conspiracy was a robbery, or specifically, to rob a cocaine stash house. The client was found near the scene of the crime at the time the robbery was to take place, and was observed by law enforcement throwing an object out of his car window. Law enforcement claimed it was a gun they never found. The client claimed it was drugs. Cell site records showed that he made multiple calls to alleged co-conspirators during that time, but the substance of the calls was not recorded. Under Eleventh Circuit precedent which holds that a criminal defendant cannot be convicted absent proof of knowledge of the conspiracy, and that mere presence at the crime scene is insufficient, Ms. Grillo successfully obtained reversal of her client’s conviction. Reversal of a conviction in the Eleventh Circuit is rare. Reversal on grounds of insufficiency is rarer still. This appeal was won on a straightforward application of the law to the facts and on the overlooked distinction between evidence of general criminal intent (here, knowledge of a drug transaction), and evidence of intent to commit the specific offense charged (conspiracy to commit robbery).