335 F.3d 170 (2nd Cir. 2003), 02-1283, U.S. v. Jackson

Docket Nº:02-1283
Citation:335 F.3d 170
Party Name:U.S. v. Jackson
Case Date:June 30, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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335 F.3d 170 (2nd Cir. 2003)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee-Cross-Appellant,

v.

Charles L. JACKSON, Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 02-1283, 02-1303.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

June 30, 2003

Argued: March 28, 2003.

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[Copyright Material Omitted]

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Fred S. Gallina, Gallina Law Offices, Rochester, NY, for Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Christopher P. Tuite, Assistant United States Attorney, for Michael A. Battle, United States Attorney for the Western District of New York, Rochester, NY, for Appellee-Cross-Appellant.

Before: McLAUGHLIN and B.D. PARKER, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG, Judge.[*]

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge.

This appeal presents two significant issues: (1) whether statements, made by a co-conspirator at his plea allocution, that arguably exculpate the defendant are admissible at the defendant's trial; and (2) whether a jury determination as to the quantity of cocaine attributable to the defendant's conspiracy was supported by the trial evidence.

After a trial in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Larimer, J.), a jury found defendant Charles L. Jacksoro. ilty of conspiring to import 5 kilograms or more of cocaine into the United States. Although the district court denied Jackson's motion for acquittal as to the conspiracy, it did grant Jackson's motion for acquittal as to the jury's drug quantity determination. The court concluded that Jackson was guilty of the lesser-included offense of conspiracy to import between 500 grams and 5 kilograms of cocaine.

Jackson challenges his conviction on evidentiary grounds. He contends that the court abused its discretion in refusing to admit the entire plea allocution of co-conspirator Steve Brown. The Government cross-appeals the district court's grant of Jackson's motion of acquittal on drug quantity, contending that a reasonable jury could easily have found that Jackson's conspiracy involved at least 5 kilograms of cocaine.

We find Jackson's evidentiary challenge meritless. We also conclude that the district court erred in granting Jackson's Rule 29 motion because there was more than sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Jackson conspired to import 5 or more kilograms of cocaine. Accordingly, we vacate the district court's grant of Jackson's Rule 29 motion and remand to the district court for resentencing in accordance with the jury's verdict.

BACKGROUND

Jackson, Steve Brown, and Sincerray Gina Sullivan were charged in a Superseding Indictment with one count of conspiracy to import 5 or more kilograms of cocaine into the United States between October 1998 and March 2000, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952(a), 963 & 960(b)(1)(B). Brown and Sullivan ultimately pled guilty to this charge, as did several other co-conspirators in a series of separate cases.

I. The Government's Case

The proof at trial established that Brown and Lionel Guthrie ran an organization that hired couriers from Rochester, New York to smuggle cocaine from Jamaica into the United States. The Government called four co-conspirators to prove the existence of the conspiracy and to describe Jackson's role as a drug courier. Lewis Snowden, Shatrina Jackson (a distant relative of the defendant), Lakisha

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Sinkler, and Sullivan explained how the smuggling operation worked: Brown provided his couriers with all-expense-paid round trips to Jamaica. Before leaving Jamaica, the couriers were given pellets of cocaine, which they swallowed or hid on their persons. Back in Rochester, the couriers were paid for their efforts based on how much cocaine they imported, typically from one-half to 1 kilogram.

The testimony of Lakisha Sinkler was the most extensive. Sinkler, Jackson's longtime girlfriend and the mother of one of his children, testified that she went on two smuggling trips to Jamaica with Jackson, as well as four smuggling trips on her own. These trips were coordinated and financed by Brown. Sinkler made her first smuggling trip in October 1998. Brown promised Sinkler that she would be paid $2,500 for importing half a kilogram of cocaine and $5,000 for a whole kilogram. Sinkler flew to Jamaica, ingested cocaine tablets that she got from Brown's co-conspirators, and was paid $2,500 upon her return.

Two months later, Jackson accompanied Sinkler on her second smuggling trip to Jamaica. Jackson agreed to join her on this trip after discussing with her and Brown how much cocaine Jackson would be asked to import and the money he could expect for his efforts. Prior to her second trip, Sinkler and Jackson obtained their birth certificates together in Rochester; and Brown gave them spending money and round-trip plane tickets to Jamaica. Sinkler and Jackson then flew to Jamaica, stayed at the same hotel for a week and, on the night before their departure, swallowed the cocaine pellets they were given. Sinkler estimated that Jackson swallowed over 100 cocaine pellets. Sinkler herself ingested about 40 pellets and carried the remaining pellets in her undergarments. When they landed in Rochester, they were picked up at the airport by Brown and his girlfriend, co-conspirator Gina Sullivan. They went to Sinkler's house, took laxatives, and passed the cocaine pellets. The following day, Sinkler was paid between $1,800 and $2,000, while Jackson received $5,000 for his efforts.

Jackson took his second smuggling trip to Jamaica two months later. According to Sinkler, Jackson went on this February 1999 smuggling trip alone because Brown wanted only a kilogram of cocaine and did not want to spend the money on trips for two. Having stayed in Jamaica for a few days, Jackson returned to Rochester where Brown met him at the airport. Brown dropped Jackson off at Sinkler's house. There Jackson passed over 100 cocaine pellets. Sinkler's best recollection was that Brown paid Jackson $5,000 for this trip.

Sinkler took her third smuggling trip to Jamaica in May 1999, this time going alone. Brown paid her between $1,800 and $2,000 to smuggle slightly less than half a kilogram of cocaine.

According to Sinkler, she and Jackson took their second joint smuggling trip in August 1999. As with their December 1998 trip, Brown provided the round-trip plane tickets and spending money in advance. They stayed at the same hotel while in Jamaica, swallowed and hid cocaine on their persons, and flew back to Rochester together. On their return flight, Jackson encountered co-conspirator Shatrina Jackson along with her smuggling companion, Kyshea Talbert. During a short discussion with Shatrina, Jackson learned that Shatrina and Talbert were also in the process of smuggling cocaine from Jamaica on behalf of both Brown and Lionel Guthrie. Once back in Rochester, Sinkler was paid about $2,500, and Jackson was paid $5,000.

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Sinkler also testified that, at some point in 1999, Jackson became dissatisfied with the money they were getting for their smuggling efforts. He told her that they should ask for more money because the "key and a half" of cocaine they were smuggling on each trip had a street value of about $60,000.

Jackson agreed to go on another smuggling trip to Jamaica with Sinkler in November 1999. As with the earlier trips, Brown provided Sinkler and Jackson with round-trip plane tickets and spending money. The very night before they were set to leave, however, Jackson told Sinkler that he could not make the trip because another woman was giving birth to his child. Sinkler ultimately went on this scheduled trip to Jamaica alone. Upon her return to Rochester, Brown paid her $2,500 for smuggling cocaine in her undergarments.

Gina Sullivan corroborated Sinkler's version of all these events. Sullivan testified that she was present when Jackson met with Brown the night before Jackson was scheduled to leave and heard Jackson tell Brown that he would have to postpone his scheduled trip for one week. When Brown later told Guthrie about Jackson's change in plans, Guthrie was disappointed, stating that Jackson was "like a dump truck" because he could bring a kilogram of cocaine back from Jamaica at one time.

Jackson eventually rescheduled his own trip to Jamaica for sometime in December 1999. The night before he was scheduled to leave, however, he again suffered cold feet. He balked because of "bad feelings" about the trip, and offered to repay Brown the up-front money he had already spent. Jackson later reneged, telling Sullivan that Brown would just have to take it as a loss. Jackson later had Sinkler return Jackson's unused plane tickets to Brown.

Some few months later, Jackson told Sinkler that he had made his last smuggling trip. Sinkler, however, accepted another smuggling assignment in March 2000. On her re-entry into the United States, she was arrested by U.S. Customs and was found to possess 498 grams of cocaine. She began cooperating with investigators immediately and ultimately pled guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement with the Government.

Like Sinkler, Shatrina and her smuggling companion, Kyshea Talbert, were apprehended by U.S. Customs in December 1999 following a trip to Jamaica. They possessed about 1.2 kilograms and 698 grams of cocaine, respectively. Shatrina, too, pled guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement with the Government.

Besides the testimony of the co-conspirators, the Government elicited testimony from veteran U.S. Customs Inspector William Walker regarding narcotics smuggling. Walker testified that couriers such as Jackson are capable of ingesting a full kilogram of narcotics at a time.

The Government put into evidence about 3 kilograms of the cocaine it had seized from Sinkler, Shatrina, and other couriers during the course of the conspiracy...

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