265 F.3d 457 (6th Cir. 2001), 00-5666, United States v Mackey

Docket Nº:00-5666
Citation:265 F.3d 457
Party Name:United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Pierre S. Mackey, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:September 12, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 457

265 F.3d 457 (6th Cir. 2001)

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Pierre S. Mackey, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 00-5666

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 12, 2001

Argued: June 13, 2001

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Jackson. No. 99-10051, James D. Todd, Chief District Judge.

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Richard Leigh Grinalds, ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Jackson, Tennessee, for Appellee.

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Stephen B. Shankman, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant.

Before: MARTIN, Chief Judge; NORRIS, Circuit Judge; QUIST, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

ALAN E. NORRIS, Circuit Judge.

Pierre Mackey appeals his conviction for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

I.

In May 1999, police in Huntingdon, Tennessee, received a tip from a confidential informant about two men selling crack cocaine from a particular house. The police arranged to have another confidential informant buy crack at the house on May 13, 1999, and a search warrant was subsequently authorized for the house. The following day, when the police pulled up to the house to execute the warrant, one man ran inside, and the officers chased him into the house. Police found defendant Pierre Mackey and two other individuals in the area between the living room and the dining room and took them outside. Outside the residence, officers observed defendant with a brown paper sack, which he dropped. The sack contained 2.3 grams of crack. Defendant also had $855 in cash and a pager. Police found another brown bag containing 1.7 grams of crack on the ground near the house. Officers then searched the house and found a loaded short-barreled shotgun in the living room as well as a scanner, electronic scales, and razor blades. The house did not appear to function as a residence: there were no implements, food, or other signs of use in the kitchen or bathroom, no furniture in the bedroom or the rest of the house aside from in the living room, and no clothes. The front door was barricaded, as is typical in a crack house, according to testimony.

After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), possession of an unregistered short-barreled shotgun, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841 and 5861(d), and aiding and abetting in the drug and firearms offenses, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2. The jury acquitted defendant, and a co-defendant named Dwight Champion, of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §846. Defendant appeals the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions for possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He also argues that the district court erred in allowing a stipulation by the government.

II.

A. Sufficiency of the Evidence Supporting the 21 U.S.C. §841 Conviction

Defendant argues that he possessed the cocaine for personal use and there was insufficient evidence of his intent

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to distribute. We review claims of insufficient evidence to determine "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." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979).

Section 841(a)(1) provides that it is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to "manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance." 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). To establish a violation of § 841(a)(1), the government must prove the following elements: "(1) knowing (2) possession of a controlled substance (3) with intent to distribute." United States v. Christian, 786 F.2d 203, 210 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). Circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to sustain a conviction. United States v. Clark, 928 F.2d 733, 736 (6th Cir. 1991).

The government introduced evidence that defendant possessed 2.3 grams of crack cocaine at a house that he had rented for cash two weeks prior to the search, and 1.7 more grams were on the ground outside the house. There was testimony that 2.3 grams would not likely be a personal use amount; a witness stated that dealers usually sell a "rock" of about 0.2 grams to users. Circumstantial evidence, including razor blades, scales, a scanner, a sawed-off shotgun, and a barricaded door, indicated that the house was not a residence but a crack house used for drug trafficking. The day before the search, an informant purchased crack from a man in front of the house, which was in a neighborhood frequented by drug dealers. Defendant had $855 in cash and a pager when he was searched. Based on this evidence, a rational juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knowingly possessed crack with an intent to distribute it.

B. Sufficiency of the Evidence Supporting the 18 U.S.C. §924(c) Conviction

Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. To the extent that the question turns on statutory interpretation, rather than on the sufficiency of the evidence, we review the issue de novo. United States v. Choice, 201 F.3d 837, 840 (6th Cir. 2000). Section 924(c) provides in relevant part:

any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime . . . uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime --

(i) be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years[.]

18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

In this case, defendant contends that the government failed to prove the underlying drug offense, so he could not have possessed the gun in furtherance of that offense. Because, as discussed above, we conclude that the evidence is sufficient to support defendant's § 841 conviction, this argument is without merit.

Defendant concedes that he constructively possessed the gun, but he claims that there was no evidence that the possession was "in furtherance of" the drug crime. We are confronted with the question of what "in furtherance of" means in the statute. The term "furtherance" should be understood in its ordinary or natural meaning, which, according to the

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dictionary, is "a helping forward: advancement, promotion." Webster's Third New International...

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