United States v. Williams, 062614 FED3, 13-2004

Docket Nº:13-2004
Opinion Judge:SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.
Judge Panel:Before: FISHER, SCIRICA and COWEN, Circuit Judges
Case Date:June 26, 2014
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit




No. 13-2004

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

June 26, 2014


Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) April 8, 2014

On Appeal from the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania D.C. Criminal No. 1-10-cr-00341-001 (Honorable Yvette Kane)

Before: FISHER, SCIRICA and COWEN, Circuit Judges


SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.

Defendant Seth Williams was convicted following a jury trial of distribution and possession of cocaine and cocaine base with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(iii), possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i), and being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He was acquitted of being a user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Williams appeals his convictions based on insufficiency of the evidence, the inconsistency between his two firearms convictions and his firearms acquittal, denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized during a search of his home, and his designation as a career offender resulting in a prison sentence of 360 months. We will affirm.1


On October 5, 2010, police officers responded to reports of a robbery at Williams's apartment. The officers surrounded the apartment and three individuals surrendered. Williams, whose hands and feet were bound with duct tape, was the apparent victim of the robbery. While conducting a protective sweep of Williams's apartment, officers noted a strong smell of marijuana and, once a warrant was obtained, searched the apartment. Officers found $6, 960 in cash, three loaded handguns, three boxes of ammunition, small packets of marijuana, cocaine base, small glassine baggies, a razor blade, a spoon, and a digital scale.

Before trial, the District Court held a two-day suppression hearing but denied Williams's motion to suppress, finding the initial cursory search to be a justified protective sweep and the subsequent search executed according to a valid search warrant.

At trial, the Government presented various witnesses, including a witness who testified she arranged the robbery, had seen Williams selling cocaine, and had traveled with him to buy cocaine in New York, and a witness who testified he sold Williams one of the guns found in his apartment. The officers who responded to the robbery testified to the strong odor of marijuana, the process of obtaining a search warrant, and what they found during execution of the warrant. The Government offered expert testimony regarding laboratory analysis of the drugs found in Williams's apartment and the interstate element of the drugs, guns, and ammunition found in the apartment.

On September 27, 2012, the jury found Williams guilty of all but the user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm charge. Williams was designated a career offender because he was at least 18 when he committed the instant offense, the instant offense was a felony controlled substance offense, and he had two prior felony controlled substance convictions, and he was sentenced on March 21, 2013, to an aggregate term of 360 months in prison. He filed a timely notice of appeal.



Williams contends there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base. We review challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence "in the light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt[] beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Caraballo-Rodriguez, 726 F.3d 418, 430 (3d Cir. 2013) (en banc) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

At trial, the Government presented evidence that Williams lived in the apartment where the drugs were found and that cocaine packaged for distribution was found under his bed. Drug paraphernalia was also found in the apartment, and the Government offered expert testimony that this paraphernalia was probative of intent to sell cocaine.

Williams does not dispute his residence, nor that cocaine prepared for sale was found in his apartment. Instead, he maintains this evidence is insufficient to prove possession. He claims he had no knowledge of the drugs and that their location in his apartment does not satisfy the requisite element of control. Williams relies on United States v. Brown, 3 F.3d 673, 681 (3d Cir. 1993), which held that mere proximity is insufficient to establish dominion and control over illegal drugs. In that case, we found a drug possession charge could not be sustained solely on the basis of a defendant having a key to an apartment in which articles of her clothing were found in a separate room from where the drugs were found. But here Williams resided in the apartment-he characterized the apartment as his "home" and mail addressed to him was found there- the drugs and paraphernalia were found under his bed in the apartment's sole bedroom, and the jury heard testimony from a witness who stated she had seen Williams prepare drugs for sale in his apartment. See Jackson v. Byrd, 105 F.3d 145, 150 (3d Cir. 1997) (distinguishing Brown and finding defendant had control over drugs because she was lessee of apartment, had access to all parts of it, and drugs were found in a container she owned).

Because we review the evidence as a whole in the light most favorable to the prosecution, we hold that a jury could reasonably have inferred from the evidence that Williams knowingly had dominion and control over the drugs. Accordingly, the evidence was sufficient to support Williams's drug possession conviction.2


Williams next argues his...

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