144 F.3d 1343 (10th Cir. 1998), 97-3178, United States v. Singleton

Docket Nº:97-3178.
Citation:144 F.3d 1343
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Sonya Evette SINGLETON, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:July 01, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 1343

144 F.3d 1343 (10th Cir. 1998)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Sonya Evette SINGLETON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 97-3178.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

July 1, 1998

Order Granting Rehearing En Banc July 10, 1998.

John V. Wachtel, Klenda, Mitchell, Austerman & Zuercher L.L.C., Wichita, Kansas, for Defendant-Appellant.

Michael G. Christensen, Assistant United States Attorney (Jackie N. Williams, United States Attorney, with him on the brief), Wichita, Kansas, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before SEYMOUR, Chief Judge, EBEL, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

KELLY, Circuit Judge.

Section 201(c)(2) of Title 18 of the United States Code prohibits giving, offering, or promising anything of value to a witness for or because of his testimony. Defendant-Appellant Sonya Singleton argues the government violated this statute by promising leniency to a witness in return for his testimony against her. Ms. Singleton was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, see 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846, and seven counts of money laundering, see 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(I). The district court sentenced her to forty-six months imprisonment on each count, to be served concurrently, and to be followed by three years of supervised release.

Ms. Singleton appeals her convictions, arguing the district court erred (1) in denying her motion to suppress testimony allegedly obtained in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(2) and Kansas Rule of Professional Conduct 3.4(b), and (2) in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal on both the conspiracy and money laundering counts. Our jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse and remand for a new trial.


In April 1992, a detective of the Wichita Police Department contacted local Western Union agents to determine if drug dealers were using Western Union services to transfer drug money. He found a large number of wire transfers over $1000 which bore similar identifiers, including similar names of recipients, and similar names, addresses and phone numbers of senders. The records led authorities to a group of people whom they believed were involved in a conspiracy to sell drugs. Further investigation indicated the drug business was begun by men who had moved from California to Wichita. They recruited local women to wire proceeds of drug sales back to California to pay for more cocaine; some of these women also received wire transfers on behalf of the conspiracy and transported cocaine from California to Wichita. Ms. Singleton was identified as one

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who transferred and received money for the conspiracy. She was the common-law wife of Eric Johnson, who regularly bought, packaged, and sold drugs, and she was listed as either the sender or recipient on eight wire transfers suspected to have been sent on behalf of the conspiracy. Handwriting experts confirmed that her handwriting was present on paperwork accompanying the eight wire transfers.

Ms. Singleton and others were charged in a superseding indictment with multiple counts of money laundering and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Before trial she moved to suppress the testimony of Napoleon Douglas, a coconspirator who had entered into a plea agreement with the government. The basis for her motion was that the government had impermissibly promised Mr. Douglas something of value--leniency--in return for his testimony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(2) and Kansas Rule of Professional Conduct 3.4(b), which prohibits offering unlawful inducements to a witness. The district court denied the motion, ruling that § 201(c)(2) did not apply to the government.

At trial Mr. Douglas testified against Ms. Singleton. He stated that the government, through an assistant United States attorney, had promised to file a motion for a downward departure if he testified truthfully. See IV R. 204-06. His testimony of the government's promise in this regard is somewhat confused, however, and in Mr. Douglas's written plea agreement the government made no firm promise to file a motion for a downward adjustment. The agreement merely stated the government would file a motion under USSG § 5K1.1 or 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) if, in its sole discretion, Mr. Douglas's cooperation amounted to substantial assistance. See I R. doc. 109, at 2. Both the testimony and plea agreement make clear Mr. Douglas understood that the actual grant of any downward adjustment was entirely within the purview of the sentencing court.

The plea agreement does, however, state three specific promises made by the government to Mr. Douglas in return for his explicit promise to testify. See id. at 1-3. First, the government promised not to prosecute Mr. Douglas for any other violations of the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act stemming from his activities currently under investigation, except perjury or related offenses. See id. at 1-2. Second, it promised "to advise the sentencing court, prior to sentencing, of the nature and extent of the cooperation provided" by Mr. Douglas. Id. at 2. Third, the government promised "to advise the Mississippi parole board of the nature and extent of the cooperation provided" by Mr. Douglas. Id. Mr. Douglas agreed, "in consideration of the items listed in paragraph 2 above ... [to] testify[ ] truthfully in federal and/or state court...." Id. at 2-3.


The issues before us are (1) whether the government's conduct was prohibited either by § 201(c)(2) or Kansas Rule of Professional Conduct 3.4(b); (2) if it was, whether Mr. Douglas's testimony should have been suppressed; and (3) whether the record contains sufficient evidence to remand for a new trial.

I. Statutory Construction of 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(2)

  1. The Language and Plain Meaning

    We review de novo the district court's interpretation of a federal statute. See Utah v. Babbitt, 53 F.3d 1145, 1148 (10th Cir.1995). Our inquiry begins with the language of the statute, see Ardestani v. INS, 502 U.S. 129, 135, 112 S.Ct. 515, 116 L.Ed.2d 496 (1991), which "must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive." Consumer Prod. Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108, 100 S.Ct. 2051, 64 L.Ed.2d 766 (1980). "The 'strong presumption' that the plain language of the statute expresses congressional intent is rebutted only in 'rare and exceptional circumstances,' when a contrary legislative intent is clearly expressed." Ardestani, 502 U.S. at 135-36, 112 S.Ct. 515 (citation omitted) (quoting Rubin v. United States, 449 U.S. 424, 430, 101 S.Ct. 698, 66 L.Ed.2d 633 (1981)). In the absence of that rare and exceptional circumstance, "we are bound to take Congress at its word." Oubre v. Entergy Operations, Inc., 522 U.S. 422, 118 S.Ct. 838, 841, 139 L.Ed.2d 849 (1998).

    The Supreme Court has recently emphasized the primacy of statutory plain language. In Salinas v. United States, 522 U.S.

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    52, 118 S.Ct. 469, 473-74, 139 L.Ed.2d 352 (1997), the Court concluded that a bribe need not affect federal funds to violate the federal bribery statute, 18 U.S.C. § 666, because the "expansive, unqualified" plain language of the statute criminalized the acceptance of a bribe by a covered official in connection with "any" transaction involving $5,000 or more. Id. at 473, 118 S.Ct. 469. The statute made no mention of federal funds, and the court emphatically refused to rewrite Congress's enactment or judicially add elements to the crime. See id. at 473-75, 118 S.Ct. 469. Similarly, in Brogan v. United States, 522 U.S. 398, 118 S.Ct. 805, 809, 139 L.Ed.2d 830 (1998), the Court invalidated the longstanding "exculpatory no" doctrine under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 "[b]ecause the plain language of § 1001 admits of no exception" for the doctrine. Id., 118 S.Ct. at 812. Section 1001, which imposes criminal liability for making a false statement to federal investigators, had long been interpreted by the courts of appeal to exclude liability for a suspect's mere denial of wrongdoing. The Court, however, rejected "the broad proposition that criminal statutes do not have to be read as broadly as they are written," and stated:

    it is not, and cannot be, our practice to restrict the unqualified language of a statute to the particular evil that Congress was trying to remedy--even assuming that it is possible to identify that evil from something other than the text of the statute itself.... Courts may not create their own limitations on legislation, no matter how alluring the policy arguments for doing so.

    Id., 118 S.Ct. at 809-12. Most recently, the Court in Oubre found that where a general waiver of all causes of action against an employer by an employee did not conform to specific enumerated requirements for waivers under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 626, the waiver did not release the employee's ADEA claims. See Oubre, 118 S.Ct. at 842. The Court wrote, "Courts cannot with ease presume ratification of that which Congress forbids." Id., 118 S.Ct. at 841.

    Section 201(c)(2) could not be more clear. It says:

    Whoever ... directly or indirectly, gives, offers or promises anything of value to any person, for or because of the testimony under oath or affirmation given or to be given by such person as a witness upon a trial, hearing, or other proceeding, before any court ... authorized by the laws of the United States to hear evidence or take testimony ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.

    18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(2). We note at the outset that § 201 is to be broadly construed to further its legislative purpose of deterring corruption. See United States v. Hernandez, 731 F.2d 1147, 1149 (5th Cir.1984); United States v. Evans, 572 F.2d 455, 480 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 870, 99 S.Ct. 200, 58 L.Ed.2d 182 (1978).

    The class of persons who can violate the statute is not limited. "Whoever" completes the following elements commits a crime. 18 U.S.C. §...

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