U.S. v. Williams, 02-4344.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation342 F.3d 350
Docket NumberNo. 02-4344.,02-4344.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Wesley Bernard WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date29 August 2003

Page 350

342 F.3d 350
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Wesley Bernard WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 02-4344.
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.
Argued: June 4, 2003.
Decided: August 29, 2003.

Page 351

ARGUED: William Norman Nettles, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellant.

Thomas Ernest Booth, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

ON BRIEF: Amy E. Ray, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellant.

J. Strom Thurmond, Jr., United States Attorney, Rose Mary Parham, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before WIDENER, WILKINSON, and KING, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge WILKINSON wrote the opinion, in which Judge WIDENER and Judge KING joined.

Page 352


WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Wesley Bernard Williams and three other individuals robbed and killed a drug dealer, Kirktrick Cooper, in South Carolina in August 2000. Williams was convicted by a jury of five counts of drug trafficking and possession, Hobbs Act robbery, and possession and use of a firearm. He was sentenced to concurrent terms totaling 45 years' imprisonment. Williams' chief contention on appeal is that his robbery of Cooper failed to affect interstate commerce, as required by the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (2000). Because drug dealing is an inherently economic activity that Congress can regulate under its Commerce Clause power, and because Williams' robbery of Cooper falls within that authority as exercised in the Hobbs Act, we affirm the conviction and sentence in all respects.


Beginning in the middle of 2000, Wesley Bernard Williams joined a group that had hatched plans to rob drug dealers for their drugs and money. On several occasions prior to August 2000, the gang had successfully obtained money or drugs in this manner.

On August 13, 2000, Williams met up with Ray Anderson, Arthur Niles, and Holly Carpenter at Carpenter's residence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The three men planned to look for drug dealers to rob in several cities in South Carolina, and Carpenter agreed to drive them around in Anderson's rented van. When the party failed to find any drug dealers around Kingstree or Hemingway, South Carolina, Niles proposed that they rob Ronald Haywood, a known drug dealer who lived in nearby Andrews. The group traveled to Haywood's home where Anderson left the vehicle and spoke to Haywood, who said he had no money or drugs. While the group was at Haywood's residence, however, it received word that Kirktrick Cooper, a man with whom Niles had previously had three drug dealings in 1999, recently received a kilogram of cocaine.

Based on this information, the four individuals decided to drive to Cooper's trailer home to rob him. On the way, Niles told the group that if they went to Cooper's house and robbed him, they would have to kill him in order to keep the "big dope dealer" and his "hit men" from retaliating against them. Once they arrived at Cooper's home, the group observed Cooper walk outside from his trailer to his car. Anderson gave Williams his .9mm pistol and told him to shoot Cooper. Williams then approached Cooper and shot him in the leg. Cooper proceeded to struggle with Williams for the gun. When Williams regained control over the gun, he returned to the van to get more bullets and tried shooting Cooper again, but the bullets kept falling out of the gun as he tried to discharge it. Meanwhile, Anderson and Niles restrained Cooper and eventually forced him inside the van. Once inside, Anderson demanded money from Cooper. Cooper, however, maintained that he had no money and refused to allow the men to enter his home to look for it.

Thus far thwarted in their robbery attempt, Niles directed Carpenter to drive to a back road. Along the way, Niles tied Cooper's hands up with his shoestrings. The men then questioned Cooper about money and drugs, repeatedly hit him in the face, and threatened to kill him if he did not have any money. Cooper finally told the men that he had money and "a couple of ounces" of crack in his aunt's barn, and also that he had $1,000 in his

Page 353

pocket. Anderson took the money from Cooper's pocket and gave it to Carpenter.

Once the van stopped on a back road, the men released Cooper from the car. Cooper began running away from the van, but Niles, who had taken possession of the gun from Williams during the ride, shot Cooper twice to bring him to the ground. Cooper begged for his life, but Niles shot him again and started to return to the van. Williams noticed that Cooper was moving, however, and he told Niles that Cooper was still alive. Niles returned and shot Cooper again, this time fatally. An autopsy revealed that Cooper was shot a total of five times: three times in the leg, once in the neck, and once in the head. The shots to the leg did not themselves inflict fatal injuries.

After killing Cooper, the party headed back to Myrtle Beach. Along the way, Anderson threw the gun away and divided the money they had taken from Cooper. Carpenter drove the van to a car wash in order to clean the bloodstains, and the men tossed Cooper's personal items into the woods nearby.

Williams was later charged in South Carolina District Court on a five-count indictment with drug, weapons, and robbery offenses stemming from the incident. The government's case consisted primarily of the testimony of Niles, Anderson, and Carpenter. Kevin Davis, Cooper's cousin and a convicted drug felon, also testified that Cooper had acquired one-half kilogram of cocaine in late 1999 and again in 2000. Moreover, the government read to the jury a stipulation in which Williams conceded, among other things, that "drug trafficking is a business that involves interstate commerce with the interstate commodities being cocaine and crack cocaine and proceeds from drug distribution."

The jury convicted Williams on each of the five counts for which he was charged: (1) conspiracy to traffic in crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (2000); (2) attempt to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (2000); (3) obstruction of commerce by robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) and § 2; (4) using, carrying, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and (j)(1) (2000) and § 2; and (5) being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (2000), § 924(a)(2) (2000), and § 2.

He was sentenced to concurrent terms totaling 45 years' imprisonment. Williams now appeals his conviction and sentence on several of the counts.1


Williams principally challenges his conviction for robbery under the Hobbs Act. The Hobbs Act prohibits robbery or extortion that "in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce." 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). A Hobbs Act violation requires proof of two elements: (1) the underlying robbery or extortion crime, and (2) an effect on interstate commerce. Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212, 218, 80 S.Ct. 270, 4 L.Ed.2d 252 (1960).

The question on this appeal, simply put, is whether the criminal act affected interstate commerce. Williams argues that his robbery of $1,000 from Cooper had no effect on commerce because there was insufficient evidence to prove that Cooper was dealing cocaine when he was robbed

Page 354

and murdered. The government maintains that there was ample basis for the jury to decide that Cooper was engaged in drug trafficking at the time of the robbery and that the stolen cash represented proceeds from his drug dealing.

Under the Commerce Clause, Congress has plenary authority to regulate (1) "the use of the channels of interstate commerce," (2) "the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may come only from intrastate activities," and (3) "those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce." United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558-59, 115 S.Ct. 1624, 131 L.Ed.2d 626 (1995). Congress exercised the full extent of this authority in the Hobbs Act, which "speaks in broad language, manifesting a purpose to use all the constitutional power Congress has to punish interference with interstate commerce by extortion, robbery, or physical violence. The Act outlaws such interference `in any way or degree.'" Stirone, 361 U.S. at 215, 80 S.Ct. 270. We have therefore found the Hobbs Act to apply whenever the instant offense has at least a "minimal" effect on interstate commerce. United States v. Spagnolo, 546 F.2d 1117, 1119 (4th Cir.1976).

Importantly, the Supreme Court's decisions in Lopez and United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 120 S.Ct. 1740, 146 L.Ed.2d 658 (2000), do not disturb our continued application of this "minimal effects" standard. There is no doubt, of course, that Lopez and Morrison impose real limits on Congress's exercise of its enumerated commerce power. The present case, however, is lacking in the features that the Court found objectionable in Lopez and Morrison. As the Eleventh Circuit...

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