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United States v. Staggers

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 10, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ANDRE STAGGERS, ET AL.

         SECTION: "S" (1)

          ORDER

          MARY ANN VIAL LEMMON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Andre Staggers' Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, or Alternatively Motion for New Trial Pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Doc. #346) is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Leonard Morrison's Motion for New Trial (Doc. #350) is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Corey Session's Post-Verdict Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (Doc. #357) is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Corey Session's Motion for a New Trial (Doc. #358) is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Gregory London's Motion for New Trial (Doc. #359) is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Gregory London's Motion for Post-Verdict Judgment of Acquittal (Doc. #360) is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         This matter is before the court on motions for new trial and motions for post-verdict judgment of acquittal filed by the defendants: Andre Staggers; Corey Session; Gregory London, Jr.; and, Leonard Morrison.

         On April 27, 2018, the Grand Jury charged the defendants in the Third Superseding Indictment. Count 1 charges that beginning on a date unknown, but not later than January 2015, and continuing until on or about August 7, 2016, Staggers, Session, London, Morrison, and others conspired to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride, heroin and marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. In Counts 2 through 7 and 11 through 18, the defendants are charged with using a communication facility, specifically a telephone, to facilitate the commission of a drug-trafficking crime in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 2, as follows:

Count

Date

Defendants

2

May 1, 2015

London and Morrison

3

May 6, 2015

London and Anderson

4

May 18, 2015

Session and London

5

May 25, 2015

London and Anderson

6

June 2, 2015

London and Anderson

7

June 19, 2015

London and Morrison

11

August 27, 2015

Staggers and Session

12

September 19, 2015

Session and Cotto

13

October 30, 2015

Staggers and Session

14

November 6, 2015

Session

15

November 18, 2015

Staggers, Session and London

16

December 28, 2015

Staggers and Session

17

January 12, 2016

Staggers and Session

18

January 17, 2016

Staggers and Session

         Counts 21 through 23 are specific to Staggers. Count 21 charges Staggers with possession with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. In Count 22 Staggers is charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug-trafficking crimes in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A), 924(c)(1)(A)(I), and 2. Count 23 charges Staggers with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 2.

         Counts 24 through 26 are specific to Session. In Count 24 Session is charged with possession with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Count 25 charges Session with possessing firearms in furtherance of drug-trafficking crimes in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A), 924(c)(1)(A)(I), and 2. Count 26 charges Session with being a felon in possession of firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 2.

         Counts 28 through 30 are specific to Morrison. In Count 28 Morrison is charged with possession with the intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(D) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Count 29 charges Morrison with possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug-trafficking crimes in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A), 924(c)(1)(A)(I), and 2. Count 30 charges Morrison with being a felon in possession of firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 2.

         A jury trial was held from August 6 to 10, 2018. Staggers and Sessions were found guilty on all charges against them. London was found guilty of Counts 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12; and, was acquitted on Counts 2 and 7. Morrison was found guilty of Count 24; and, was acquitted of all other charges against him. The jury found that the conspiracy involved 1 kilogram or more of heroin and 5 kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride. The jury also found that Staggers and Session knew or should have known that the conspiracy involved 1 kilogram or more of heroin; and that Staggers, Session and London knew or reasonably should have known that the conspiracy involved 500 grams or more of cocaine hydrochloride.

         After the trial, the defendants filed motions for a new trial and motions for a post-judgment verdict of acquittal. Each of the defendants argues the evidence against him was insufficient to sustain convictions on certain counts or that the court improperly admitted evidence.

         Staggers argues that his convictions should be vacated because they are largely based on the testimony of Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Powell Morris, and there was no testimony that anyone ever saw Staggers engaged in a drug transaction. Staggers also argues that the court erred by admitting evidence of his prior drug convictions under Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         Session argues that there was insufficient evidence to establish the amounts of heroin and cocaine hydrochloride that the jury found were involved in the conspiracy. Session argues that Agent Morris's lay opinion testimony was ambiguous and did not plausibly distinguish between code words for heroin and cocaine hydrochloride. Session argues that the only cocaine hydrochloride attributable to him was the amount that Kirkland Sterling testified he bought from Session, which Sessions contends was 28 grams.

         London argues that his rights to confront witnesses against him was violated because the confidential informant who purchased cocaine hydrochloride from him in controlled purchases did not testify. London argues that he had a right to cross-examine the confidential informant and the evidence of the controlled purchases could not presented solely by the testimony of Louisiana State Police Trooper Rohn Bordelon.

         Morrison argues that the evidence of the firearm found in his residence and his statements regarding that firearm should not have been admitted into evidence. Morrison made the same arguments in his motion to suppress, which this court denied. Morrison is asking for a reconsideration of that order.

         The government opposes the motions arguing that all evidence was properly admitted and that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find the defendants guilty and the amounts of drugs involved. The government explains the testimony and evidence supporting the convictions on each charge.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Legal Standards

         Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure governs motions for judgment of acquittal. “Rule 29 . . . tests only the sufficiency of the evidence introduced at trial to support the crime charged.” United States v. Hope, 487 F.3d 224, 225 (5th Cir. 2007). Rule 29(a) provides in relevant part: “[T]he court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 29(a).

         Relief under Rule 29 is based on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids conviction “except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which [the defendant] is charged.” Jackson v. Virginia, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2787 (1979) (quotation and citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court does not “ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, ” but rather “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. at 2789 (quotations and citations omitted). The court determines “only whether the jury made a rational decision, not whether its verdict was correct on the issue of guilt or innocence.” United States v. Dean, 59 F.3d 1479, 1484 (5th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). All evidence, both direct and circumstantial, reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence and all credibility choices are viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict. Id. (quotations and citations omitted). “The evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence or be wholly inconsistent with every conclusion except that of guilt, and the jury is free to choose among reasonable constructions of the evidence.” United States v. Mitchell, 484 F.3d 762, 768 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted). However, the court must ensure that the verdict is not based on “mere suspicion, speculation, or conjecture, or on an overly attenuated piling of inference on inference.” United States v. Moreland, 665 F.3d 137, 149 (5th Cir. 2011) (quotations and citations omitted).

         The verdict must be upheld “if the fact finder was presented with sufficient evidence to support the verdict reached[.]” United States v. Lucio, 428 F.3d 519, 522 (5th Cir. 2005). However, a conviction must be reversed “if the evidence construed in favor of the verdict gives equal or nearly equal circumstantial support to a theory of guilt and a theory of innocence of the crime charged.” Dean, 59 F.3d at 1484 (quotations and citations omitted).

         Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows a district court to “vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R.Crim. Pro. 33(a). “The trial judge may weigh the evidence and may assess the credibility of the witnesses during its consideration of the motion for new trial.” United States v. Robertson, 110 F.3d 1113, 1117 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Tibbs v. Florida, 102 S.Ct. 2211, 2215-16 (1982)). The court may grant a Rule 33 motion for a new trial when “the evidence preponderates heavily against the verdict such that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand.” United States v. Fuchs, 467 F.3d 889, 910 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing United States v. Arnold, 416 F.3d 349, 360 (5th Cir.2005)). Granting a ...


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