Former Coca Cola Employee's Conviction Affirmed

In an Opinion (available here) dated March 20, 2008, but released on Monday, May 12, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences of Joya Williams, a former Coca Cola employee, and one of her conspirators, Ibrahim Dimson.

After a lengthy factual recitation regarding this case which was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneys Office in Atlanta and which involved the attempted sale of trade secrets by Williams and others to Pepsi, the Court found no error in the curtailed cross-examination of Williams’ co-conspirator since the cross-examination conducted extensively challenged the co-conspirator’s credibility.

In a more interesting challenge, and one that always seems to get the ear of the appellate courts, the defense contended that the district court improperly instructed the jury on the meaning of reasonable doubt by using an example “which had to do with open-heart surgery the judge had previously undergone.” Although the Eleventh Circuit doesn’t tell us more, the defense contended that the example amounted to unconstitutional burden shifting. When the example was given by the district court, he apparently informed the jury, following objection, to disregard his example, and gave the pattern reasonable doubt charge, which the jury is presumed to follow.

Finally, both Williams and Dimson challenged their sentences contending that the district court placed undue emphasis on one factor, the seriousness of the harm, and less weight on the other 3553 factors. In affirming the above-guideline sentences imposed, the Eleventh Circuit noted that, although U.S. v. Pugh, discussed at an earlier post here, provides that an unjustified reliance on a single 3553 factor might be a “symptom” of an unreasonable sentence, here the trial judge discussed several 3553 factors and the individual weight to be given to any one factor is within the trial judge’s discretion.

Both defendants challenged their sentences, 96 and 60 months respectively, based on the alleged unwarranted disparity with their cooperating co-defendant who received 24 months. The Eleventh Circuit cited the cooperation as a factor that plainly accounted for the different sentence and affirmed.