Giles v. United States

Decision Date08 September 2017
Docket Number3:14-cv-652-RJC,3:09-cr-203-RJC-DCK-1
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of North Carolina
PartiesERIC GILES, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, (Doc. No. 1), and supplemental § 2255 motion to vacate, (Doc. No. 11).


Petitioner was indicted in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy involving numerous co-conspirators including the co-defendant with whom he was tried, Kyle Corsi. (Crim. Case No. 3:09-cr-203, Doc. No. 102). The counts pertaining to Petitioner are: Count (1), conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana (100 kilograms or more) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B); Count (2), conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A)(i), (a)(1)(B)(ii), 1956(h); Count (3), conspiracy to structure a currency transaction to evade reporting requirements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a)(3); Counts (4) and (6), possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 924(c); Count (5), possession with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(D), 18 U.S.C. § 2; and Counts (7) and (8), possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Id., Doc. No. 102 at 4).

The facts of the case, as summarized by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, are as follows:

Giles and Corsi were members of a marijuana distribution ring operating in Chapel Hill and Charlotte, North Carolina. As the ring-leader, Giles would travel to California to procure "high-grade" marijuana. Giles would then send packages containing several pounds of marijuana through the mail from a fictitious business—Norcal Athletics—to Corsi and other distributors back in North Carolina. When a package arrived, Giles would send a text message that "the eagle has landed" to notify a given distributor that the package was ready for pickup and distribution. To finance the purchases, the distributors made large cash deposits into bank accounts that Giles managed. However, pursuant to Giles' instructions, the distributors kept their individual deposits under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements. Over its three years of operation, the distribution ring sold over one hundred kilograms of marijuana and made deposits totaling several hundred thousands of dollars.
On October 26, 2009, after over a year tracking the operation and intercepting packages containing marijuana en route from "Norcal Athletics" to North Carolina, federal agents arrested Giles in Charlotte. With Giles' consent, agents searched his vehicle and confiscated his cellular phone and approximately one pound of marijuana. At that time, Giles identified his source of marijuana in California, but stated that any packages sent by Norcal Athletics contained only athletic gear, and denied knowledge of the contents of the package of marijuana seized from his car. That same day, agents searched Giles' residence, and discovered receipts and other documentation linking him to shipments from California to North Carolina.
On the evening of Giles' arrest, six federal agents and two uniformed police officers went to Corsi's residence to attempt to speak with him about the marijuana distribution ring..... Agent Morgan informed Corsi that the officers had information that there might be narcotics in the residence, and hoped to talk with him and obtain his consent for a search. Corsi became agitated and denied the officers consent to enter the house.... After several minutes, Corsi shouted ... that he knew why the officers were there and that he was ready to talk and "be a man about it."
... Corsi .. admitted that he had been receiving high-grade marijuana from California through the mail. He explained that his supplier would send text messages indicating when the packages had arrived in North Carolina and were ready for pickup. Corsi also explained that other members of the ring would deposit money into the drug supplier's bank account to prepay for the marijuana, but statedthat he had never done so. However, after Agent Morgan showed Corsi bank surveillance photographs of him and an unidentified woman (who Corsi then identified as his girlfriend) making cash deposits, Corsi admitted to making several deposits into the drug supplier's account. After approximately thirty minutes, the agents concluded the interview and left the residence without arresting Corsi.
A week later, on November 3, several agents and officers returned and arrested Corsi at his residence.... Agent Morgan ascertained from the officer that Corsi had been informed of his Miranda rights, and then asked Corsi several clarifying questions regarding his October 26 statements. Corsi confirmed several statements from his earlier interview, including that packages he received from Norcal Athletics had contained marijuana.....

United States v. Giles, 518 Fed. Appx. 181, 183-85 (4th Cir. 2013).

Prior to trial, the Government raised a potential Bruton1 problem due to its intent to introduce co-Defendant Corsi's statement mentioning Petitioner. It proposed using neutral pronouns "drug supplier" or "source of supply" in place of Petitioner's name. (Id., Doc. No. 242 at 5); see also (Id., Doc. No. 118). Petitioner's counsel objected that the proposed pronouns are not neutral because they imply wrongdoing, and that the jury would "certainly realiz[e]" that these pronouns refer to Petitioner. (Id., Doc. No. 242 at 5-6). The Court overruled the objection and found that the use of pronouns "allows the jury to understand the confession in context, but avoids the constitutional issue in an appropriate way and in a way that's been approved by the Fourth Circuit." (Id., Doc. No. 242 at 6).

The Government called numerous unindicted co-conspirators2 at trial who testified that Petitioner was the head of a marijuana distribution organization that lasted for three years and brought hundreds of pounds of marijuana into North Carolina from California, and transferred overone million dollars of marijuana sale revenue from North Carolina back to California to fund additional marijuana purchases.

The Government presented evidence that police found a firearm in the home Petitioner shared with his girlfriend in December 2007.3 (Id., Doc. No. 268 at 141). Petitioner's girlfriend gave police permission to search the home when they arrived to investigate a domestic dispute. Police discovered a firearm on the top shelf of a cabinet within inches of marijuana, money, and a bong. (Id., Doc. No. 268 at 147-49). The Government argued that this gun possession violated § 922(g) because Petitioner had a 1991 conviction for assault with great bodily injury in violation of California Penal Code Section 245(a)(1), which is a felony offense punishable by more than a year in prison. Defense counsel refused to stipulate that the California conviction is a felony, arguing that it is a misdemeanor conviction under a "wobbler" statute. The Court ruled that the California conviction is a prior felony conviction for purposes of § 922(g), and the only issue for the jury in that regard is whether Petitioner is the same person who was convicted in the California case. (Id., Doc. No. 269 at 8-10).

The Government introduced co-Defendant Corsi's pre-arrest statement to police during DEA Agent Christopher Morgan's direct testimony, with the Bruton modifications it had proposed pre-trial. During this testimony there were approximately 14 references, both by the prosecutor and Agent Morgan, to co-Defendant's "drug supplier" or "source of supply." (Id., Doc. No. 270 at 84-89).

In addition to the numerous unindicted co-conspirators' testimony, the Government also introduced evidence of packages that Petitioner sent from California to various North Carolina addresses that corresponded to marijuana shipments, some of which were intercepted by UnitedStates Postal Inspectors, bank account activity by Petitioner and the co-conspirators in amounts just under the $10,000 reporting limit that corresponded to marijuana purchases in California and shipments to North Carolina, and surveillance images of Petitioner in California banks and post offices corresponding to drug transactions and shipments.

Petitioner chose not to testify at trial or present a defense case. (Id., Doc. No. 270 at 201).

The jury found Petitioner not guilty of Count (4), and guilty of the remaining counts with the special findings that 100 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana was reasonably foreseeable to Petitioner in Count (1), and that the objects of the conspiracy in Count (2) were to violate 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A)(i) (with intent to promote) and 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(ii) (with intent to avoid a transaction reporting requirement). (Id., Doc. No. 159).

Petitioner filed a pro se motion for new trial prior to sentencing in which he attached "newly discovered evidence," i.e., a 1998 California court document containing a crossed-out entry stating "17(b) REDUCE FELONY TO MISD." (Id., Doc. No. 201). Petitioner argued that this entry shows that his 1991 assault conviction was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. The Government filed a California court official's declaration that no motion to reduce was filed in Petitioner's case, but that such a motion was filed in his co-defendant's case, and the crossed-out entry appeared to correct a human error. (Id., Doc. No. 212). The Court denied the pro se motion for new trial because Petitioner was not diligent in uncovering the proffered evidence, and that it would not likely alter the verdict because the crossed-out entry refers to a co-defendant. United...

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