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United States v. Hynson

June 11, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
SHAMEK HYNSON



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sánchez, J.,

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On September 21, 2007, after a ten-day trial, a jury convicted Shamek Hynson of conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base (crack) and heroin;*fn1 using and carrying, and aiding and abetting the using and carrying of, a firearm, during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense, in the shooting of Tracy Ramirez;*fn2 using and carrying, and aiding and abetting the using and carrying of, a firearm, during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense, in the shooting of Edward Cameron;*fn3 three counts of witness tampering;*fn4 and felon in possession of a firearm.*fn5

Hynson moves for judgment of acquittal on the conspiracy count, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict and this Court's admission of certain evidenceunfairly prejudiced him.*fn6 Hynson also moves for judgment of acquittal on the firearms counts, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the verdicts. Hynson asserts his conviction arising from the Ramirez shooting must be vacated because the Government improperly charged multiple firearms counts predicated on a single underlying offense. Hynson asserts his conviction on the conspiracy and tampering counts should be overturned because this Court erred in refusing to sever the tampering counts from the remainder of the charges. Hynson also moves for a new trial, arguing the evidence recovered from the search of his residence should have been suppressed. This Court will grant Hynson's motion in part and vacate Hynson's conviction on the firearms count arising from the Ramirez shooting. This Court will deny the remainder of Hynson's motion.

FACTS

Over the course of several months from 2004 to 2005, Shamek Hynson conspired with co-defendant Prince Isaac and others to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine, and heroin, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Isaac was the ringleader of the drug distribution enterprise. Hynson's duties in the organization included selling drugs, distributing drugs to others for sale, using violence and encouraging others to use violence to elicit payment of drug debts, and accompanying Isaac in various drug-related tasks. The conspiracy also involved sellers Michael Fowler, co-defendant Steven Gonzalez, James Cuffie, Tracy Ramirez, Lindsay Colon (Isaac's then-girlfriend), and Shanika Wilson (Hynson's then-girlfriend). Co-defendant Dwight Williams allowed Isaac and other conspirators to use his home to package drugs and conduct drug sales.

During his tenure with the drug distribution enterprise, Hynson was involved in two shootings. Both occurred on October 18, 2004. First, Hynson shot Edward Cameron after Cameron refused to pay a drug debt owed Hynson by Cameron's girlfriend. Second, Fowler shot Ramirez, a crack user and occasional seller for Isaac, with a gun provided by Hynson.

After his arrest, Hynson wrote a series of letters to a girlfriend, Talonda Williams. Williams pled guilty to straw purchasing firearms for Hynson and Isaac. In the letters, Hynson urged Williams to tell authorities she had not purchased handguns on his behalf.

DISCUSSION

To decide a motion for judgment of acquittal, this Court "must review the record in the light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the available evidence." United States v. Smith, 294 F.3d 473, 476 (3d Cir. 2002) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Upon a defendant's motion for a new trial, a trial court "may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). The decision to grant or deny a motion for new trial is committed to a trial judge's sound discretion. United States v. Cimera, 459 F.3d 452, 458 (3d Cir. 2006).

Hynson moves for judgment of acquittal on the conspiracy count, arguing the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conspiracy conviction. In evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court "must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government and must sustain the jury's verdict if a reasonable jury believing the government's evidence could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the government proved all the elements of the offense." United States v. Pressler, 256 F.3d 144, 149 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1013 (2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Conspiracy consists of the following elements: "(1) a unity of purpose between the alleged conspirators; (2) an intent to achieve a common goal; and (3) an agreement to work together toward that goal." Pressler, 256 F.3d at 149 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Toler, 144 F.3d 1423, 1426 (3d Cir. 1998) (noting "the object of the agreement must be illegal"). "The government must show an 'interdependence' among the alleged conspirators in order to prove that the indicted conspiracy was a single unified conspiracy as opposed to a series of smaller, uncoordinated conspiracies." Toler, 144 F.3d at 1426; see also United States v. Coy, 19 F.3d 629, 633 (11th Cir. 1994) ("In determining whether the jury could have found a single conspiracy, we consider the following factors: (1) whether a common goal existed; (2) the nature of the scheme underlying the crimes charged; and (3) the overlap of participants.") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

The Government must prove "each defendant's knowledge of the conspiracy's purpose and some action indicating his participation." United States v. Watkins, 662 F.2d 1090, 1097 (3d Cir. 1981); see also United States v. Jones, 393 F.3d 107, 111 (3d Cir. 2004) ("Mere presence at the scene of a criminal act or association with conspirators does not constitute intentional participation in a conspiracy, even if the defendant has knowledge of the conspiracy. Evidence tending to show knowing participation in the conspiracy is also needed....") (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted). However, the Government "need not prove that each defendant knew all the details, goals, or other participants." United States v. Price, 13 F.3d 711, 728 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Conspiracy may be proven entirely by circumstantial evidence. United States v. Thomas, 114 F.3d 403, 405 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Toler, 144 F.3d at 1426 ("[T]he government need not demonstrate the existence of a formal agreement, but may instead demonstrate by circumstantial evidence a meeting of the minds to commit an unlawful act.") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

Hynson specifically argues there was insufficient evidence to establish he knew of or participated in the drug distribution conspiracy. Hynson concedes the evidence tended to show he participated in conspiracies to straw purchase firearms and distribute drugs in Utica, New York, however, Hynson asserts there was insufficient evidence to show he was guilty of participating in the conspiracy charged in the indictment. Hynson argues the Government failed to show the "interdependence" among himself and co-conspirators necessary to prove his participation in a single conspiracy. See Toler, 144 F.3d at 1426. On the contrary, there was ample evidence to demonstrate Hynson was a knowing, active participant in the conspiracy charged in the indictment. Several witnesses, both participants in and victims of the conspiracy, gave testimony regarding events placing Hynson at the heart of the conspiracy

Lindsay Colon, Isaac's girlfriend during the tenure of the conspiracy, gave testimony which described Hynson's role in the conspiracy as a seller and distributor of crack cocaine. Colon stated she prepared and packaged crack for Isaac on numerous occasions, and, on at least one occasion, handed the packaged product to Hynson to sell in Lancaster. Colon also testified about an occasion where Isaac exhorted co-conspirators to work harder. Isaac gave an angry speech to several individuals, including Hynson, in which he accused them of insufficient effort, exclaiming, "This phone right here does ten thousand a week and you guys can't do that?" N.T. 9/11/07 2.114:11-12. Colon stated Isaac was referencing the phone he held, which he used to conduct drug transactions. Colon testified she knew of at least two customers to whom Hynson sold crack in Lancaster. Colon also testified she heard Hynson tell Shanika Wilson to take Porsche Hunter's necklace because Hunter had failed to repay Hynson for crack he had given her to sell. Colon also testified that, after Isaac was incarcerated, Isaac instructed her to retrieve crack and a gun from Hynson on Isaac's behalf.

Edward Cameron testified as to Hynson's role as a distributor and enforcer. Cameron testified Hynson shot him in an attempt to collect a drug debt. Cameron stated his girlfriend, Hunter, received crack from Hynson to sell. Cameron testified he was approached by a vehicle driven by Isaac in which Hynson was a passenger. Cameron testified Hynson asked about Hunter's whereabouts, the vehicle pulled away, then returned, and Hynson got out. Hynson demanded Cameron pay him the money Hunter owed Hynson. After Cameron refused, Hynson shot at Cameron three times. Cameron was struck in the arm and abdomen. ...


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