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Eleventh Circuit Upholds Some Convictions of Four Georgia Prison Guards for Drug Smuggling; Reverses Others for Retrial

by Matt Clarke

On March 17, 20201, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the convictions of two former Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) prison guards for attempted distribution of methamphetamine while reversing for new trial the attempted distribution convictions of two other DOC guards and the Hobbs Act extortion convictions of all four guards.

In response to the DOC’s concerns that guards were smuggling drugs the FBI conducted a sting operation resulting in the indictment of around 130 people. In this case, an undercover informant set up fake drug transportation escorts, telling the guards to wear their uniforms so the police, as professional courtesy, would not stop and detain the vehicle.

Chelsey Mayweather, Jeremy Fluellen, Christopher Williams, and Tramaine Tucker are four former DOC guards who were indicted and tried jointly. Another guard gave Fluellen the informant’s phone number and encouraged him to call the informant. When he did not call, the informant called him, told him he was setting up a team to transport drugs, and arranged a meeting, asking him to bring along three or four other guards who might be interested in the deal. At the meeting, the informant told the guards he needed a uniformed DOC guard to ride along during drug transports so the police would not pull him over.

Williams and two unnamed guards were also at the meeting. Williams recruited Tucker. Tucker recruited Mayweather. All were told they would be moving cocaine and methamphetamine and asked to wear their DOC uniforms. All were given multiple opportunities to back out of the scheme. All participated in several escorted transport runs of simulated drugs. Fluellen, Tucker, and Mayweather were indicted for two counts of Attempting to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 u.s.c. §§ 84l(a)(l), 846, and two counts of Hobbs Act extortion in violation of 18 u.s.c § 195l(a). Williams was indicted for three counts of Hobbs Act extortion. At trial they argued that wearing a DOC uniform was not an “official act” as required by the Hobbs Act and attempted to raise an entrapment defense. The trial court refused to dismiss the charges or give a jury instruction defining “official act” and told the jury an entrapment defense was not available for these charges. They were convicted on all charges and appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit noted that an entrapment defense required government inducement of the crime and a lack of predisposition to commit the crime. If the defense shows sufficient evidence of inducement, it is entitled to raise an entrapment defense and have an appropriate jury instruction. It is then up to the prosecution to prove a criminal predisposition.

The informant’s pressure tactics on Fleullen and Williams met the “light burden” of proving government inducement. Thus, they were entitled to an entrapment jury instruction. Tucker and Mayweather failed to prove any such pressure was put on them. However, since a Hobbs Act conviction requires that an official act be performed, all four defendants were entitled to have the jury be given a definition of an “official act.” Therefore, Tucker and Mayweather’s convictions for attempting to distribute were upheld and the remaining convictions were reversed and remanded for a new trial. See: United States v. Mayweather, 991 F.3d 1163 (11th Cir. 2021).

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Related legal case

United States v. Mayweather