Nevada Drug trafficker denied 'procuring agent' defense State Supreme Court overturns long-standing precedent from 1954 case

By Pat Murphy

The Daily Record Newswire

BOSTON -- It seems rather odd that a drug dealer nabbed in a methamphetamine sale would be cut any slack because he claimed that he was merely helping a friend buy the drugs.

Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court agreed that the so-called "procuring agent" defense no longer makes any sense and eliminated it from consideration in drug trafficking cases.

The court overturned long-standing precedent in a case involving Ramon Dinkha Adam.

Adam came to the attention of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police through a confidential informant. The informant told Detective Mike Wilson that Adam had the ability to procure drugs.

The informant introduced the undercover detective to Adam and the officer spent four months cultivating a friendship. Detective Wilson claimed that Adam opened up one day and told him he had "connects" to buy drugs. The undercover detective asked Adam if he could get methamphetamine. Adam allegedly agreed to help buy 15 grams.

According to Detective Wilson, Adam arranged to meet drug suppliers at a tattoo shop in Las Vegas. The suppliers arrived in a truck while Adam and Detective Wilson waited outside in Adam's car.

Detective Wilson later testified that one of the suppliers approached Adam's car. The man handed Adam methamphetamine through the driver's window, which Adam placed on a scale. Adam allegedly weighed the methamphetamine and told the supplier that he was short. The man went back to his truck and returned with more methamphetamine.

Adam allegedly reweighed the drugs, said the amount was now correct at 15 grams, and handed the supplier $500 that the undercover detective had previously given him for the drug buy.

Soon thereafter, Adam was arrested and charged with trafficking in a controlled substance for knowingly or intentionally having actual or constructive possession of 12.64 grams of methamphetamine.

At trial, Adam claimed the benefits of the procuring agent defense, first recognized by the 3rd Circuit in a 1954 case, United States v. Sawyer (210 F.2d 169). The Nevada Supreme Court recognized the defense in 1971 and later explicitly ruled that it applied in drug trafficking cases.

The procuring agent defense generally provides that if a defendant is an agent of the purchaser, then the defendant should only be held as culpable as the purchaser. In other words, if the jury finds that the defendant was only acting on behalf of a buyer when procuring drugs, then the defendant could not be convicted of selling drugs.

The trial judge denied Adam's request for a jury instruction on the procuring agent defense, concluding that his request was untimely and that it wouldn't apply anyway because Adam had initiated the sale by telling Detective Wilson that he had "connects" to get drugs.

So without the instruction the jury found Adam guilty of trafficking in a controlled substance. For his transgression, the trial judge sentenced Adam to a maximum of 48 months in prison.

Up before the Nevada Supreme Court, Adam's case presented front and center the question of whether the procuring agent defense remained viable.

The state argued that the defense simply did not make sense under Nevada's version of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act because it is designed to make all actors in the illicit drug deal equally culpable when a trafficking quantity of a controlled substance is involved.

The court agreed and overruled its procuring agent precedent in the context of drug trafficking charges.

The court said that the procuring agent defense should remain viable when the transaction involves a nontrafficking amount because it ensures that the buyer's agent has only the same liability as the buyer rather than the greater liability imposed on the seller.

The same reasoning does not apply when a defendant is charged with drug trafficking, the court said.

It explained that "because the trafficking statutes do away with any distinction between seller and buyer for all practical purposes, the statutes already achieve the result that would otherwise be achieved by the procuring agent defense, and, thus, there is no place for the defense when the charge is trafficking."

Published: Fri, Sep 30, 2011