United States v. Adams, 043021 FED8, 19-3761

Docket Nº19-3761
Opinion JudgeGRUENDER, Circuit Judge.
Party NameUnited States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee v. Rossi Lorathio Adams, II, also known as Rossi Adams, also known as Polo, Defendant-Appellant
Judge PanelBefore GRUENDER, BENTON, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
Case DateApril 30, 2021
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee

v.

Rossi Lorathio Adams, II, also known as Rossi Adams, also known as Polo, Defendant-Appellant

No. 19-3761

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 30, 2021

Submitted: January 13, 2021.

Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Cedar Rapids.

Before GRUENDER, BENTON, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

Rossi Lorathio Adams, II was tried and convicted of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence, see 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and he was sentenced to 168 months' imprisonment. On appeal, he challenges the district court's denial of his Batson objection, its admission of certain evidence, its orders requiring him to pay certain costs and attorney fees, and its calculation of his advisory sentencing guidelines range. We affirm except for that part of the district court's order taxing costs for grand jury witnesses, which we reverse.

I.

Adams was an internet entrepreneur and social-media influencer. Around 2015, Adams founded State Snaps, LLC, which he operated on various social-media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. On these platforms, State Snaps displayed content submitted by its social-media followers, which often consisted of explicit photographs and videos. In their images and videos, State Snaps' followers began including the phrase "Do It For State," which went "viral."

To further his business, Adams sought to acquire the doitforstate.com internet domain and "doitforstate" trademark. Through internet-domain registrars such as GoDaddy.com, individuals may register, buy, sell, and transfer internet domains. The registration of a domain name grants the holder an exclusive, transferable right to own a particular internet address. After determining that Ethan Deyo ("Ethan") already owned the doitforstate.com internet domain, Adams arrived unannounced at Ethan's home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and asked to buy it. Ethan did not sell him the domain at that time but indicated he would follow up.

Adams also learned that Brandon Miller, an acquaintance of Ethan, was using a "DoItForState" hashtag to promote concerts and other events around the country. Upon learning of Miller's use of the hashtag, Adams contacted Miller by text message and insisted that he stop using it. When Miller refused, Adams sent Miller a text message containing gun emojis.

Subsequently, Ethan, his brother Chris Deyo ("Chris"), and Miller met with Adams at a local restaurant to discuss a partnership and sale of the doitforstate.com domain, but the negotiations were unsuccessful. Afterward, Adams repeatedly returned unannounced to Ethan's home, trying to convince Ethan to sell him the domain name, but Adams was repeatedly rebuffed.

Eventually, Adams recruited his cousin, Sherman Hopkins, Jr., to break into Ethan's home and force Ethan to transfer the doitforstate.com domain to Adams. Hopkins was a homeless felon with a lengthy criminal history that included at least one violent crime.

Adams drove Hopkins to Ethan's neighborhood several times, showing Hopkins where Ethan lived and conducting surveillance. Then, on June 21, 2017, Adams picked up Hopkins and dropped him off behind Ethan's residence. Hopkins was armed with a taser, which Adams provided, and a firearm, which Hopkins provided but which he displayed in Adams's presence in the car. Hopkins also carried a demand note that Adams had provided, which described how to transfer the domain to Adams's GoDaddy account. Adams planned to wait at a nearby Walgreens while Hopkins forced Ethan to transfer the doitforstate.com domain name to Adams, and once the transfer was confirmed, Adams would return to pick up Hopkins.

After being dropped off, Hopkins entered Ethan's residence, found and confronted Ethan, forcibly moved him to his home office, ordered him to turn on his computer, and showed him the demand note. While Ethan attempted the transfer, Hopkins tased him several times and struck him repeatedly with the firearm. As the transfer was processing, Hopkins cocked his firearm and threatened to "blow [Ethan's] . . . head off" if the transfer was not done correctly. Ethan then tried to wrestle the firearm away from Hopkins, at which point it discharged and shot Ethan in the right leg. Ethan eventually gained control over the weapon and called 911. After medical personnel arrived, Ethan declined pain medication, stating that he was "fine," and he said he did not wish to go to the hospital. But he eventually agreed to go after the medical personnel encouraged him to do so. At the hospital, he was treated for the gunshot wound in his right leg and a laceration above his left eye. He was discharged after approximately two and a half hours.

The next day, Adams called GoDaddy several times to ask for assistance with his account (the same account indicated on the demand note), indicating that he was supposed to be getting a domain transferred to his account from another GoDaddy customer but did not see that the domain transfer had occurred. Some time later, investigators examined the demand note and found Adams's left palm print on it.

A grand jury returned a one-count indictment against Adams, charging him with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence. See 18 U.S.C. § 1951. During jury selection, the Government used a peremptory strike against the only black prospective juror. Adams raised a Batson objection to this, which the district court rejected. During trial, the district court admitted over Adams's objection Miller's testimony about a video in which Adams told his followers to send pictures to Miller's phone, which Miller alleged caused his phone to "crash[]."

After a four-day trial, the jury found Adams guilty. At sentencing, the district court applied a seven-level increase to Adams's offense level pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B3.2(b)(3)(A)(i) because the offense involved discharge of a firearm; a four-level increase pursuant to § 2B3.2(b)(4)(B) because the offense resulted in a victim's serious bodily injury; and a two-level increase pursuant to § 2B3.2(b)(1) because the offense involved an express or implied threat of death, bodily injury, or kidnapping. The district court then determined that Adams had a total offense level of 35 and a criminal-history category of I, yielding an advisory sentencing guidelines range of 168 to 210 months' imprisonment. It ultimately sentenced Adams to 168 months' imprisonment. The court also found that Adams had earned a significant amount of money since committing the crime and therefore ordered Adams to pay $22, 000 in court-appointed attorney fees and $3, 957.45 in prosecution costs.

Adams appeals, challenging the district court's denial of his Batson objection, its admission of Miller's testimony, its order requiring him to pay certain prosecution costs, its order requiring him to pay $22, 000 in attorney fees, and its calculation of his offense level.

II.

Adams first claims that he is entitled to a new trial because the Government violated Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), by striking the only black prospective juror. Adams argues that the district court clearly erred in finding that the Government did not purposely discriminate against the black prospective juror. He also contends that the district court failed to complete the third step of the Batson analysis and failed to determine whether the prosecutor's explanation of the strike was reasonable or improbable, which he argues is required under Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322 (2003). We review for clear error the district court's finding that the Government's peremptory strike of a black prospective juror was not "motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent." Flowers v. Mississippi, 588 U.S. __, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2244 (2019). Because Adams did not raise before the district court his argument that the district court failed to complete the third step of the Batson analysis or his argument regarding Miller-El, we review these claims for plain error. See Hopson v. Frederickson, 961 F.2d 1374, 1377-78 (8th Cir. 1992).

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits striking a juror when the strike is "motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent." Flowers, 139 S.Ct. at 2238, 2244. Batson requires a three-step, burden-shifting analysis to evaluate a defendant's objection to the strike of a juror based on race. United States v. Jones, 245 F.3d 990, 992 (8th Cir. 2001). First, the opponent of a peremptory strike must make a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Id. Second, if the prima facie case is made, the burden of production shifts to the proponent of the strike, who must offer a race-neutral explanation. Id. Third, if a race-neutral explanation is presented, the district court must determine whether the opponent of the strike has proven purposeful racial discrimination, typically by demonstrating that the government's reasons are pretextual. Id. at 992-93.

Only one member of the jury venire was black. The Government used its first peremptory strike to remove that prospective juror, which Adams objected to under Batson. The Government then provided four reasons for striking the prospective juror: (1) he had a recent conviction for marijuana possession; (2) he was unemployed; (3) he lived with his parents; and (4) when questioned about prior jury service mentioned on his jury questionnaire, he explained that he did not actually serve on the jury but had been dismissed. After Adams explained his dispute with the Government's rationale, the district court overruled the Batson objection, finding that the Government's reasons for striking the juror were race-neutral and...

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