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United States v. Gardenhire

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 13, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
LANCE GARDENHIRE, GEMERE BEY, CHRISTOPHER BRADLEY-BEY, CHRISTOPHER BROWN, HOLMAN BROWN, COREY CHEATOM, ANTHONY COSBY, HAKEEM DUELL, KHYREE GARDENHIRE, LASEAN GARDENHIRE, KEVIN SCOTT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Nora Barry Fischer U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This multi-defendant heroin trafficking conspiracy case remains set for jury selection and trial to commence on April 24, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. (Docket No. 1774). The Court is considering the proposal by the Government to conduct two trials in this matter as is noted in the Third Trial Plan filed on March 31, 2017. (Docket No. 2102). Presently before the Court are three motions challenging the admissibility of Rule 404(b) evidence filed by Defendants Lance Gardenhire, Hakeem Duell, and Christopher Brown. (Docket Nos. 2124; 2130; 2142). The Government opposes the motions and seeks the admission of the challenged evidence, for reasons set forth in its responses. (Docket Nos. 2170; 2171; 2172). After careful consideration of the parties' arguments, and for the following reasons, Defendants' Motions [2124], [2130], [2142] are denied.

         II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         All three of the Defendants (Lance Gardenhire, Hakeem Duell and Christopher Brown) are charged with conspiracy to distribute 1 kilogram or more of heroin from March 2012 to May 21, 2015. (Count 1S). Lance Gardenhire is also charged with: attempt to possess with intent to distribute 1 kilogram or more of heroin from August 1, 2014 to August 2, 2014, (Count 2S); conspiracy to commit money laundering from March 2012 to May 21, 2015, (Count 3S); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of the heroin trafficking conspiracy from March 2012 to May 21, 2015, (Count 7S). Hakeem Duell is additionally charged with: possession of a firearm in furtherance of possession with intent to deliver heroin on November 24, 2014, (Count 19S); felon in possession of a firearm on November 24, 2014, (Count 23S); and possession with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin on November 24, 2014, (Count 47S). Christopher Brown is charged with: possession of a firearm in furtherance of the heroin trafficking conspiracy from March 2012 to May 21, 2015, (Count 12S); and, possession with intent to distribute heroin, on May 21, 2015, (Count 53S).

         Lance Gardenhire, Hakeem Duell and Christopher Brown have each stipulated with the Government that the drug lab reports from seizures during the investigation may be admitted into evidence, with the caveat that Defendants may dispute how or from whom the heroin was seized and the evidentiary value of the heroin. (Docket No. 2208). Additionally, the Government and Hakeem Duell have stipulated that “DeAndre Farrington pled guilty in Allegheny County Court to possession of a prohibited firearm identified as a Stag Arms AR-15 found in the Cadillac occupied by him and Defendant Hakeem Duell on November 24, 2014.” (Docket No. 2208 at ¶ 1). They have further stipulated that the firearm was “manufactured outside of Pennsylvania and, therefore, traveled across state lines prior to being present in Pennsylvania, ” and that prior to that episode, Duell was convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 6). The parties then stipulate to the admission of the excerpt of the state preliminary hearing transcript from a hearing held on December 4, 2014 at Govt. Ex. 19. During that hearing, Duell testified as follows:

Q. Now, sir, were you a passenger in a Cadillac vehicle parked on Brownsville Road?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did you come to place an AR 15 in that vehicle at some point?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You put the gun in the vehicle?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You possessed it?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. My client [Deandre Farrington] never possessed it?
A. No, sir.

(Govt. Ex. 19).

         Despite his prior testimony, as a defense to the charges at trial, Duell has proffered, among other things, that “[o]n November 24, 2014, Mr. Duell was a passenger in a Cadillac operated by Deandre Farrington and did not own, possess, or exercise control over an AR-15 located in the rear of the vehicle. He subsequently accepted blame for the firearm for the benefit of his friend, Deandre Farrington. Any and all heroin found in Mr. Duell's possession was for personal use and not for sale or delivery to others.” (Docket No. 2188). While the firearm charge against Farrington was resolved in state court, Duell's state charges were nolle prossed in favor of this federal prosecution.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Evidence of a criminal defendant's conduct which is not charged in the indictment, including crimes, wrongs or other acts, may be admissible if: (1) the evidence is intrinsic to the charged offense; or, (2) the evidence is extrinsic to the charged offense but is offered for a proper purpose under Rule 404(b). See United States v. Green, 617 F.3d 233, 249 (3d Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 131 S.Ct. 363, 178 L.Ed.2d 234 (2010); United States v. Williams, 647 F.App'x. 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2016) (same). In the Third Circuit, uncharged acts are considered intrinsic to the charged offense if such acts “directly prove” the charged offense, or are “performed contemporaneously with the charged crime” and “facilitate the commission of the charged crime.” Id. at 248-49. This type of evidence is admissible without the need for the government to provide notice to the defense prior to trial or for the Court to provide limiting instructions to the jurors during trial. Id. Uncharged acts which do not come within this definition of intrinsic evidence constitute extrinsic evidence and must meet the requirements of Rule 404(b) prior to being admitted at trial. Rule 404(b) bars “the introduction of evidence of extrinsic acts that might adversely reflect on the actor's character.” Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 685, 108 S.Ct. 1496, 99 L.Ed.2d 771 (1988).

         Rule 404(b) provides, in pertinent part, that:

(b) Crimes, Wrongs, or Other Acts.
(1) Prohibited Uses. Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person ...

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