At its heart, it's still a drug case. While it is now associated with a landmark Supreme Court ruling regarding the government's use of GPS tracking, prosecutors on Friday again began trying to prove that a former D.C. nightclub owner acted as a drug kingpin.
Prosecutors began opening statements in their case against Antoine Jones, laying out details normal for many drug conspiracy cases — including how police believe Mr. Jones bought and slung large quantities of cocaine, how they plan to link him to a drug stash house in Fort Washington, and explaining that his former conspirators would be testifying against him in hopes of better deals in their own criminal cases.
"The defendant was their best customer. He bought the vast majority of the kilos of cocaine they brought up from Mexico," Assistant U.S. Attorney Courtney Spivey Urshel said of several Texan drug dealers who sold to Mr. Jones.
Overall, authorities seized 97 kilos of cocaine and $850,000 in cash.
But Jones’ case has a storied history far from that of the typical drug case. Arrested in 2005, his first trial ended in a mistrial and a second trial resulted in a conviction and a life sentence, which the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned. A Supreme Court ruling last year thrust Mr. Jones case into the national spotlight, when justices upheld the decision that authorities had violated Mr. Jones’ rights by attaching a global positioning system to his wife’s Jeep in order to track his movements.
In unanimously upholding the reversal of Mr. Jones' conviction, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the installation of a GPS device "constitutes a 'search' " under the Fourth Amendment and that authorities had overstepped their bounds by placing the device on the vehicle without obtaining a search warrant.
As a result of the ruling, GPS data will not be allowed as evidence in the current case, which is expected to be heard over a number of weeks in U.S. District Court in Dthe District before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle. Instead, evidence from another type of surveillance activity — tracking of individuals through cell phone location data — will be introduced.
Mr. Jones, who has remained in jail since his original conviction, will represent himself in the case and is expected to give his own opening statements Monday.
Friday's hearing gave some indication how the trial will flow, with a U.S. Marshall following Mr. Jones around the courtroom as he spoke to Judge Huvelle on several administrative matters.
He raised complaints Friday, after the jury had been excused, that information the government provided him about his case was too heavily redacted and also about the quality of meals he received in jail.
"This is new to me and I've been up studying and the lunch they give us is just bologna sandwiches," Mr. Jones said.
On the matter of the evidence, Judge Huvelle explained to Mr. Jones that he could have access to the unredacted documents while at the courthouse but would not be allowed to take them back to the jail. Of the meals, the judge said Mr. Jones' family was welcome to bring him meals but joked, "We're not running a Marriott here."
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