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United States v. Lawson

decided*fn*: August 20, 1975.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 74 CR 243 - Bernard M. Decker, Judge.

Fairchild, Chief Judge, Moore, Senior Circuit Judge,*fn** and Pell, Circuit Judge.

Author: Moore

MOORE, Senior Circuit Judge.

George Lawson and Ronald Scharf appeal from judgments of conviction following a jury trial before Judge Bernard Decker, Northern District of Illinois, on a one count indictment charging Lawson and Scharf as well as Bobbie Arnstein and George Matthews with conspiracy to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยงยง 841(a)(1) and 846. Matthews pleaded guilty and testified for the government at the joint trial of Lawson, Arnstein*fn1 and Scharf. Lawson and Scharf raise a plethora of issues on appeal including lack of speedy trial; a bar to prosecution from a prior dismissal of an indictment with prejudice; defective indictment due to reference to cocaine rather than coca leaves; statutory misclassification of cocaine as a narcotic; improprieties in wiretap procedure requiring suppression; proof of multiple conspiracies rather than a single one; a double jeopardy problem in terms of a relationship between a prior conspiracy for which Lawson was convicted and the instant conspiracy; improper admission of "business records"; prejudicial conduct of trial judge; and the giving of a portion of the charge in Lawson's absence.

Although we do not discuss each issue below, we have considered each of the issues raised very carefully and we affirm the convictions.

The evidence at trial indicated that Lawson who was residing in Jamaica, B.W.I., acted as a go-between in getting Scharf, a potential Chicago purchaser-distributor of cocaine, into contact with Matthews who lived in Florida and had large quantities of cocaine for sale.

Lawson, a resident of Jamaica, sent his girlfriend to Matthews' Miami home in August 1971 to obtain cocaine and bring it to Jamaica. Lawson then telephoned Matthews and indicated that he knew several people in the United States who would be interested in purchasing cocaine. Matthews gave Lawson an unpublished phone number to be given to "Ronnie" from Chicago. Following a phone contact, Ronald Scharf and Ira Sapstein flew to Miami to see Matthews, where the three of them sampled cocaine. Scharf left for Chicago with an ounce and a half sample having given Matthews two phone numbers where he could be reached, one of them being a number for the Playboy Mansion. Scharf returned to Miami a few days later but no transaction occurred due to Scharf's financial inability. On September 10, 1971 Scharf visited Matthews, accompanied by Bobbie Arnstein, and in the course of the visit accepted a half-pound of cocaine. On September 13 an informant carrying $6,250 in government funds purchased some cocaine from Scharf, while drug enforcement agents watched, although they were unable to see the exchange of money for the white crystalline powder.

On September 14, Lawson phoned Matthews to inquire when he (Lawson) would be paid for the Scharf-Matthews transaction.

About a week later Matthews and his wife drove to Chicago where Matthews and Scharf discussed payment by Scharf to Matthews for the half-pound at the Arnstein apartment.

Scharf arranged a purchase with Matthews in November for the informant and an undercover agent. In the meantime, Scharf's phone had been tapped. Matthews was arrested when he attempted to complete a cocaine sale with the undercover agent.

Appellants have raised many issues involving the obtaining and processing of wiretap evidence and the conduct of the trial. Before discussing the claims based on governmental noncompliance with the provisions of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 we will consider a few of appellants' arguments with respect to alleged faulty trial procedures.


Lawson and Scharf were both named in an indictment in this case in December 1972 and they claim that they were deprived of their constitutional right to speedy trial by the twenty-two month pre-trial delay from December 1972 to October 1974. The right of a defendant to a speedy trial is not absolute and exists in a balance with the right of the public to have offenders prosecuted. The Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 33 L. Ed. 2d 101, 92 S. Ct. 2182 (1972) has indicated that where a delay has occurred a court must consider four factors - (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons for delay; (3) defendant's requests for trial; and (4) whether or not defendant was prejudiced by the delay - to determine whether a defendant has been denied his constitutional right to speedy trial. In this case, considering these factors, we find that Lawson and Scharf did not suffer a deprivation of their constitutional speedy trial right.

Trial was originally scheduled for June 1973 but the government's chief witness, Matthews, disappeared before trial. In August 1973 Lawson filed a demand for immediate trial. In September 1973 due to Matthews' continuing unavailability, the government moved to dismiss the original indictment. Matthews was located in October 1973 and the second indictment was returned in March 1974. The case was set for trial for July 1974 but was ...

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