The idea that someone can face a longer sentence because of another person’s lies is a very scary thought. However, this happens way too often in the federal criminal “justice” system. The law calls it “relevant conduct,” but the concept is commonly referred to as “ghost dope.” The presence of “ghost dope” in the United States’ “justice system” is difficult to understand. After all, we are supposed to have the best justice system in the world! It may very well be the best, but that does not mean it can’t be better. The concept of “relevant conduct” needs to be addressed and remedied.
I will never forget the first time I heard of “relevant conduct.” It was more than a decade ago, and I thought for certain that I misunderstood. Sadly, that was not the case. Under the concept of “relevant conduct,” people can testify that you sold them X amount of drugs over X amount of time. Their statement is then used in Federal Court to calculate drug weight that is used for purposes of sentencing. Suddenly, you sentenced to twenty five years instead of two because of the “ghost dope” that someone testified to.
Why would someone lie? The answer to that question is quite simple: simple survival. People in desperate situations act desperately. People will lie to receive a “cut” in their long federal sentence (which likely also included someone else testifying to their “relevant conduct”). If they do “tell on someone else,” they are more likely going to receive a government motion for a downward departure – also known as a “5K.” This “downward departure” is a strong motivator to lie.
The use of “ghost dope” in sentencing is neither just not fair. So what can we do to combat it? As a defense attorney, you have to conduct your own investigation and get to the bottom of the matter. No one else will be looking for the truth, so it rests on you to uncover all stones and debunk the “ghost dope” that someone has placed in your client’s hands. Once you have gathered your evidence, present it to the government. If the government does not budge, present it to the court. Fight for your client by proving the “relevant conduct” a lie.
Your investigation should always include, if at all possible, interviewing the individual who is testifying against your client. I distinctly remember interviewing an individual who was lying about my client. This individual openly admitted to lying. It certainly was a Perry Mason moment, and it taught me the importance of going to the source. I will continue to seek out the source so long as I am allowed.
Frequently, those who lied because they were motivated by promises of a lighter sentence are willing to tell the truth after they have repeated the benefits of their lie. This is simply too sad to ignore, and we will not allow this bullish concept of “ghost dope” to beat up on our clients. Fighting “relevant conduct” is not an easy task – it requires significant investigatory work, research, and thinking outside of the box. Here at Guirguis Law we have an entire legal team devoted to uncovering the truth and fighting for justice – we address “ghost dope” head on.