477 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2007), 05-2603, United States v. Nitch

Docket Nº:05-2603, 05-2604.
Citation:477 F.3d 933
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Douglas L. NITCH and Curtis Patterson, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:February 21, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 933

477 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2007)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Douglas L. NITCH and Curtis Patterson, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 05-2603, 05-2604.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Feb. 21, 2007

Argued May 5, 2006.

Page 934

Thomas Edward Leggans (argued), Office of the United States Attorney, Benton, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Page 935

Mark D. Stuaan (argued), Barnes & Thornburg, Indianapolis, IN, John R. Abell (argued), Troy, IL, for Defendants-Appellants.

Before KANNE, WOOD, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

WOOD, Circuit Judge.

Douglas Nitch and Curtis Patterson were convicted by a jury of conspiracy to manufacture with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Nitch was sentenced to a term of 168 months in prison, and Patterson was sentenced to 120 months. Nitch appeals both his conviction and his sentence, claiming that there was an impermissible variance between the single conspiracy charged in the indictment and the multiple conspiracies proven at the trial, and that his sentence is unreasonable. Patterson challenges only his conviction, arguing that certain physical evidence introduced at trial was the fruit of an unlawful search and should have been suppressed. For the reasons explained below, we affirm the convictions of both men, as well as Nitch's sentence.


This case involves a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine in the town of McLeansboro, Illinois. According to the testimony presented at trial, in 1999, while he was still a high school student, Nitch learned to manufacture methamphetamine. At the time, he was apparently one of only a few people in the town with this skill. Over the course of the next year or so, Nitch "cooked" methamphetamine for various people in town and instructed several others in the manufacturing process. As things developed, certain people were responsible for obtaining the raw ingredients necessary to produce the drug; they gave the ingredients to the cooks (such as Nitch) in exchange for a share of the finished product.

In either late 2000 or early 2001, Nitch left town for Missouri. His departure, however, did not disturb the methamphetamine business in McLeansboro, which continued without him. Later in 2001, Patterson joined the McLeansboro meth group. His home became a central location for the sale and use of the drugs they produced.

In May 2003, a federal grand jury indicted Nitch and 13 others on charges of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and to possess it with intent to distribute. A fourth (and final) superceding indictment charged Nitch, Patterson, and two others with involvement in the conspiracy. Prior to trial, Patterson unsuccessfully moved to suppress methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia that was seized from a car in which he was a passenger. At trial, in addition to the physical evidence against Patterson, prosecutors presented testimony from nine members of the conspiracy who earlier had reached plea agreements with the government. The jury convicted both men, and both now appeal.



We begin with Nitch's challenge to his conviction. Since Nitch did not raise his variance argument at trial, we review the jury's verdict only for plain error. Under this standard, Nitch must show that "(1) an error has occurred, (2) it was 'plain,' (3) it affected a...

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