In United States v. Morel, No. 20-14315 (Mar. 23, 2023) (William Pryor, Rosenbaum, Marcus), the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions for importing cocaine.

First, the district court interrupted the trial to instruct the jury about the law of conspiracy after a witness incorrectly used the term incorrectly, implying that he had to personally know the defendant in order to conspire with him. The district court’s sua sponte instruction was not an discretion or an impermissible departure from the court’s neutral role, as it merely and accurately clarified the law in order to prevent confusion, and did not otherwise comment on the witness’s testimony.

Second, the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the defendant knew that the contraband on board the vessel was cocaine in particular.  Applying the prudent-smuggler doctrine, the Court emphasized, among other facts, that the defendant was communicating and working closely with one of the co-conspirators (who knew about the cocaine), the defendant was invited to unload the cocaine (which was visible in the packages), and the defendant was privy to the time and location of the drug shipment and its final destination.