Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, August 24, 2018

Dixon: Affirming Drug Trafficking Convictions and Sentences Over Numerous Challenges

In United States v. Dixon, et al., No. 15-14354 (Aug. 24, 2018) (William Pryor, Jill Pryor, Restani), the Court affirmed the defendants drug and firearm convictions and sentences over numerous challenges.

First, the Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendants' convictions for conspiracy to distribute 280 grams of cocaine base.  In so concluding, the Court rejected the argument that there were several different conspiracies that only involved some of the defendants, and that a conspiracy requires a command and control structure with one or more "bosses" coordinating the actions of each player.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court did not err by denying a defendant's suppression motion.  It concluded that he lacked standing to challenge the search of his girlfriend's car in which he lacked a possessory interest, and the officers were entitled to search it in any event under the automobile exception due to the odor of marijuana.  The Court also concluded that the defendant's interview at the jail while under arrest for state charges did not violate his right to counsel, because the defendant initiated the conversation.

Third, the Court concluded that sufficient evidence supported a defendant's 924(c) conviction because, despite the small amount of marijuana, there was evidence that he was on his way to sell drugs and he had a firearm in his possession.

Fourth, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the district court violated his procedural due process rights by not sua sponte conducting a competency hearing due to traumatic brain injury and mental defects, and that such defects rendered invalid his sentence appeal waiver.

Fifth, the Court found sufficient evidence supported a defendant's conviction for a violent crime in aid of racketeering, finding that he possessed the requisite motive of maintaining or increasing his position in the enterprise.

Sixth, the Court found sufficient evidence supported the defendant's convictions for possession with intent to distribute and 924(c).  The Court found no error by giving a Pinkerton instruction based on his role in the conspiracy.

Seventh, the Court found no error by admitting evidence of uncharged conduct.  The Court found no need to address the Rule 404(b) issue because the conduct was intrinsic to the charged offenses, since they were linked in time and circumstance with the conspiracy, and its admission did not violate Rule 403.

Eighth, the Court found that the district court correctly denied a motion for a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct at closing because, although the prosecutor misspoke by referencing dismissed charges, it did not prejudicially affect the defendant's substantial rights.  The reference was not extensive, there was no indication that the prosecutor did so deliberately, the evidence was extensive, the prosecutor quickly admitted his error, and the court gave a curative instruction.

Ninth, the Court found that the district court did not err by refusing to instruct the jury on entrapment.  Clarifying that the proper standard of review is de novo, not abuse of discretion, the Court found that, while the undercover officer attempted to persuade the defendant to sell a firearm, he was prosecuted only for possessing a firearm.  Thus, not entrapment instruction was warranted.

Tenth, the Court found that a defendant's sentence was reasonable.  First, the Court found no clear error by applying a four-level role enhancement.  Second, there was no error by finding him responsible for the sale of at least 2.8 kg of cocaine base under the relevant conduct guideline.  Third, the Court found no reversible error in counting a juvenile offense as criminal history because it was within five years of the commence of the offense, and there was no plain error by counting convictions for which adjudication was withheld and it did not affect the guideline range.  Lastly, the Court found the 420-month sentence substantively reasonable because it was in the guideline range and he was not similarly situated to other conspirators who cooperated with the government and received lower sentences.