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    Saturday, December 7, 2019-12:18:52A.M.






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Man convicted in ‘ice’ case wants US Supreme Court to review Ninth Circuit’s denial of his appeal

ZHAOPHENG Chen is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s denial of his appeal regarding his conviction in a case that involved the shipment of 4.9 lbs. of methamphetamine or ice to the CNMI in 2015.

Chen, who was sentenced to a 63- month jail term, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari on Nov. 12, 2019.

A writ of certiorari is a decision by the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from a lower court.

On April 26, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the NMI District Court did not abuse her discretion by instructing the jury in Chen’s case on deliberate-ignorance.

“The instruction correctly explained the two requirements the jury would have to find,” said Ninth Circuit Judges Mary M. Schroeder, Eugene E. Siler, and Mary H. Murguia in their order.

The Ninth Circuit judges concluded that despite participating in activities highly indicative of drug dealing, Chen never asked the co-conspirators any questions.

“Under the totality of these circumstances, a jury could reasonably conclude that Chen’s failure to inquire or investigate constitutes deliberate ignorance,” the Ninth Circuit judges added.

On Dec. 2, 2015, at the port of Saipan, a Customs inspection of a 40-foot container from China resulted in the discovery of 4.9 lbs. of “ice” hidden in one of nine 5-gallon paint containers.

The subsequent investigation resulted in the arrest of Xi Huang, Zhaopeng Chen, and Shicheng Cai.

Xi Huang and Shicheng Cai pled guilty to the drug charges. Zhaopeng Chen went to trial and was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine on Sept. 7, 2016.

Judge Manglona sentenced Zhaopeng Chen to 63 months in prison — five years and three months — with credit for 379 days of time served. Xi Huang was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison while Shicheng Cai was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Chen appealed his conviction, stating that it was not supported by sufficient evidence, and that the district court erred by giving the jury a “deliberate ignorance” jury instruction.

But according to the Ninth Circuit judges: “Taking the evidence presented in the government’s case in chief — such as Chen’s communicating with the conspirators prior to arriving in Saipan, renting a car at Huang’s request, driving around with Huang and Cai on the day in question, and denying knowing the whereabouts of the green car — in the light most favorable to the government, we conclude that a reasonable jury could have found the essential elements of the conspiracy, and the district court did not err in denying Chen’s motion for acquittal.”

The judges said before submitting the case to the jury, the district court instructed the jury that it could find that Chen acted knowingly if it found “beyond a reasonable doubt that [Chen] was aware of a high probability that drugs were being picked up from the…warehouse, and [Chen] deliberately avoided learning the truth.”

The judges added, “We reviewed the district court’s decision to give a deliberate ignorance instruction for abuse of discretion — the district court did not abuse its discretion by instructing the jury on deliberate ignorance.”