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United States v. Stoddard

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

June 15, 2018

United States of America, Appellee
Calvin Stoddard, Appellant

          Argued February 13, 2018

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Nos. 1:13-cr-00200-6, 1:13-cr-00200-17, 1:13-cr-00200-2

          Jason M. Wilcox, appointed by the court, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were William H. Burgess, William L. Welch III, and Edward C. Sussman, all appointed by the court.

          Peter S. Smith, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Elizabeth Trosman, John P. Mannarino, and Kenneth Whitted, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

          Daniel J. Lenerz, Assistant U.S. Attorney, entered an appearance.

          Before: Griffith, Srinivasan and Wilkins, Circuit Judges.



         Calvin Stoddard, Sidney Woodruff, and Jerome Cobble were tried together for charges related to a heroin-distribution conspiracy and a conspiracy to launder money. A jury convicted Stoddard and Woodruff under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1), and 846 for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin, and acquitted Jerome Cobble of the same charges. The jury returned a guilty verdict for Cobble on a separate charge of conspiracy to launder money in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h).

         These prosecutions originated from an investigation the Government began in 2012 that focused on a notorious drug dealer, Jermaine Washington, who had recently been released from prison. After employing traditional surveillance techniques, the Government successfully applied for two wiretaps on Washington's cell phone. The evidence presented at Appellants' trial consisted, primarily, of conversations recorded from the wiretaps and the testimony of Washington interpreting the language in the conversations between Washington and the three defendants. After the Appellants were convicted, the District Court sentenced Stoddard and Woodruff to mandatory-minimum sentences triggered by the drug quantity that the jury had found to be attributable to the conspiracy as a whole. Appellants assert that the District Court committed multiple errors in ruling on pretrial motions, at trial, and at sentencing.

         For the reasons discussed below, we (1) affirm the District Court's denial of Appellants' motions to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the wiretaps because the District Court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the Government had met the "necessity" requirement; (2) affirm the District Court's denial of Stoddard's and Woodruff's motions for acquittal; (3) affirm the District Court's denial of Woodruff's motion in limine to exclude evidence of a prior conviction if Woodruff had testified in his own defense; and (4) find no plain error in the District Court's jury instructions on the money-laundering charge. But we (5) reverse the District Court's denial of Cobble's motion for acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to sustain his money-laundering conviction. We also (6) vacate the sentences of Stoddard and Woodruff, remand for resentencing, and hold that, in order for a defendant to be sentenced based on a mandatory minimum triggered by a certain quantity of drugs, a jury must find the drug quantity attributable to the defendant on an individualized basis, not just the drug quantity attributable to the conspiracy as a whole. Finally, we reserve judgment on whether the District Court properly applied the career-offender enhancement before sentencing Woodruff, and instruct the District Court, on remand, to make that assessment based on new briefing from the parties and taking into account the intervening decision in Beckles v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 886 (2017).


         In the spring of 2012, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department partnered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") to investigate the heroin-trafficking activities of Jermaine Washington in the D.C. metro-area. Washington had been released from prison in 2010. The Government used an informant to make controlled drug-buys in Southeast D.C. and, shortly thereafter, identified Washington as a potential source of heroin. Based on an extensive affidavit by FBI Special Agent Joshua Taylor, filed under seal, the District Court granted the Government's application for a wiretap on Washington's cell phone from July 16, 2012, through August 14, 2012. A second 30-day wiretap, also based on a sealed affidavit, was authorized on August 16, 2012. The Government also began surveilling Washington in the D.C. metro-area. The Government recorded several phone calls between Washington and Woodruff and between Washington and Stoddard. In the course of its physical surveillance, the Government observed Woodruff and Stoddard each meet with Washington one time.

         Jerome Cobble is Washington's cousin. During the course of the Government's investigation, Cobble helped Washington purchase two vehicles. After initial reluctance, Cobble agreed to help Washington finance a Nissan Altima, and Cobble purchased the car in his own name. In the summer of 2012, Washington wrecked the Altima and discussed getting Cobble to help him buy a Lexus SUV, again in Cobble's name. On July 23, 2012, Cobble traded in the wrecked Altima and financed the purchase of the Lexus SUV from an auto dealer in Virginia for $30, 000, making a $3, 700 cash down payment from money Washington had won gambling in Atlantic City. As with the Altima, Cobble financed the car in his name, but the car would be Washington's to use and possess. Shortly after the purchase, the Lexus SUV was stolen.

         The Government searched Washington's apartment on December 6, 2012, pursuant to a search warrant, and it recovered 20.1 grams of heroin, a digital scale, and $17, 850 in cash. Washington agreed to cooperate, and on April 11, 2013, he pleaded guilty to drug-distribution conspiracy charges, and conspiracy to launder money and commit wire fraud.

         A grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Calvin Stoddard, Jerome Cobble, and Sidney Woodruff with conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 846, and aiding and abetting under 18 U.S.C. § 2. The indictment also charged Cobble with conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to commit wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956(h), 1349.

         Before the trial proceedings began, Appellants filed motions to suppress evidence obtained through the wiretaps on Washington's cell phone, including the recorded conversations between Washington and each Appellant. Appellants argued that the Government's wiretap applications had not met the necessity requirement under 18 U.S.C. § 2518. The District Court denied the motions, ultimately concluding that the Government had met the necessity requirement and that it had shown in the wiretap application that other investigative techniques were reasonably unlikely to succeed.

         At a status conference the day before trial, the Government informed the District Court that it was uncertain if it could proceed because Washington, its star witness, was acting strange and showing signs of reluctance to testify. After a delay to administer a competency evaluation to Washington, which he passed, the trial began.

         At trial, the Government presented testimony of three law enforcement officers who had participated in the investigation, testimony from an expert in code words and methods used by drug dealers, and testimony of alleged co-conspirator Sandra Settles. Washington's testimony provided the strongest evidence against all three defendants. Washington interpreted the conversations from wiretapped phone calls, which were played for the jury.

         Washington testified at trial about drug transactions with Stoddard and Woodruff, and about Cobble's role in helping him purchase a vehicle. The Government presented evidence consisting of audio recordings of conversations between Washington and Stoddard and between Washington and Woodruff, and Washington's testimony interpreting statements in those conversations. Some of this evidence included statements by Appellants that suggest they were negotiating prices and settling accounts from previous transactions with Washington. See, e.g., A. 356-58 (Woodruff); A. 397-402 (Stoddard). For example, the Government played a conversation in which Woodruff stated: "I got somebody coming to town, man, that's trying to get 40, man, but he going to be here about 10:00 tonight . . . ." A. 363. Washington testified that he understood Woodruff to mean that Woodruff had a customer who "wanted to come and purchase 40 grams of heroin." A. 364. In another recorded conversation played at trial, Stoddard said to Washington, "[i]nstead of trying to grab for the extra two, I probably need just to leave that, you know, just keep it, " which Washington testified was part of a discussion between the two men about the cut of heroin Stoddard was going to purchase from Washington and the tolerance of different heroin users. A. 390-91. Another conversation featured a discussion between Stoddard and Washington in which the men appeared again to discuss the discrepancies between, and preferences of, heroin-buyers. During that conversation, Washington stated that "[e]verybody's clientele is different." A. 394. Later in the conversation, Stoddard noted that he "learn[ed] a lot" from Washington. A. 395. Washington testified that, from 2011 to 2013, Woodruff purchased heroin from Washington "[o]ver ten times, " A. 353, and that Stoddard purchased heroin from Washington between two and four times. A. 378.

         Washington also offered testimony against his cousin, Jerome Cobble. Washington testified that Cobble helped him purchase a Lexus SUV from a car dealer in Virginia, and that Washington was dealing heroin during that time period and not otherwise employed. A. 413-16. Cobble "put the [title of the] vehicle in his name for [Washington] because at the time [Washington] didn't have a driver's license." A. 416. Washington recalled that both he and Cobble went to the car dealership together, and were in "the finance department" of the dealership together when they purchased the vehicle. A. 418. Washington made the down-payment on the Lexus with over $3, 000 he had won placing a $10 bet at a casino in Atlantic City. A. 416-17. Washington took possession of the Lexus and kept it at his residence. A. 418-19. Washington and Cobble planned to make payments on the vehicle from Cobble's bank account, into which Washington would make monthly deposits to cover the payment. A. 418-20. The Lexus was stolen before any payments were made, but Washington testified that he may have used the Lexus to sell heroin during the short time he had the vehicle. A. 419. The Government also played a recorded conversation between Cobble and Washington in which they discussed buying some marijuana. A. 421-22. In that same conversation, Washington told Cobble about Washington's attempt to purchase a gun and some bullets. A. 422-24.

         At various times during his direct and cross examinations, Washington behaved erratically and made statements suggesting his unreliability as a witness. For example, he stated that "[i]f somebody needed a false statement, and they was trying to pay some money for it, I sell it to them." A. 486. He repeatedly suggested he would "not remember" anything that was not written down or recorded. See, e.g., A. 495. His emotional tumult was on display as well. At its apex, he had to be removed from the courtroom when questioned about his relationship with his cousin, Cobble. A. 507-08. After this outburst, all three defendants moved for a mistrial, which the District Court denied.

         The lawyers for each defendant rested their cases as soon as the Government had presented its case-in-chief. The defendants each moved for judgments of acquittal. The District Court denied Woodruff's and Stoddard's motions from the bench and reserved ruling on Cobble's motion. After further briefing, the District Court denied Cobble's motion for acquittal as well. In denying Cobble's motion for acquittal, the District Court noted that Cobble had argued only that there was insufficient evidence of "concealment money laundering" but that the Government had charged him with both concealment and promotional money laundering. A. 129. In holding that the evidence was sufficient to support a promotional money-laundering theory, the District Court relied on evidence that Washington had "on various occasions used a vehicle to deliver narcotics to buyers . . . along with evidence of Cobble's close relationship with Washington . . . ." A. 129-30.

         The Government had initially proposed individual verdict forms that would have required the jury to determine the quantity of drugs attributable to each defendant. But the District Court, while recognizing that "there's a [circuit] split" on the issue, decided to use a verdict form without individualized drug-quantity determinations. A. 685. The jury found Woodruff and Stoddard guilty of the drug-conspiracy charge and found that the conspiracy, as a whole, involved 100 grams or more of heroin. The jury found Cobble not guilty of the drug conspiracy charge but guilty of the money laundering charge.

         Woodruff and Stoddard each moved for a new trial because, they contended, the jury should have found the amount of drugs attributable to each of them individually rather than the amount attributable to the conspiracy as a whole. The Government opposed the motion but agreed with the defendants that the jury should have been given a verdict form that instructed the jury to find an amount attributable to each defendant, and therefore that the District Court should sentence the defendants based on an indeterminate quantity of heroin, not the 100 grams the jury had found were attributable to the conspiracy as a whole. The District Court denied these motions and ruled that there was no need for individual findings of the drug quantity for each defendant. The District Court explained its reasoning:

The fact that subjects the defendants to the enhanced statutory maximum of 40 years is that the conspiracy involved 100 grams or more of heroin. That fact was submitted to the jury and found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . Apprendi and Alleyne did not address whether a jury must find that the amount of drugs that triggers a statutory mandatory minimum penalty in a narcotics conspiracy is attributable to the conduct of a convicted conspirator - or is reasonably foreseeable by him or her as the amount involved in the conspiracy - before that amount's penalties are triggered for that conspirator. The circuits have split on how . . . to properly resolve this question. . . . The D.C. Circuit has not resolved this question either. . . . The instructions provided to the jury here and the corresponding verdict form are consistent with the view that the jury need determine only the amount of drugs attributable to the entire conspiracy, but not to the individual defendants.

A. 109-14 (footnotes omitted).

         Woodruff and Stoddard raised the issue again at sentencing, arguing that the District Court should decline to impose a five-year mandatory minimum or a forty-year statutory maximum, both of which are applicable when a defendant conspires to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). The Government agreed with this assessment in its initial sentencing memorandum. The District Court overruled the objections.

         Woodruff also objected to other aspects of his PSR, including his career-offender designation resulting from a 1984 armed-robbery conviction and a 1991 drug-distribution conviction in Maryland. The PSR recommended applying a career-offender enhancement under USSG § 4B1.1 with an offense level of 34 and a criminal history category of VI, which would have resulted in a guidelines range of 262 to 327 months. Woodruff objected, but the District Court did not rule on the objection, finding instead ...

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