United States v. Campbell, 062420 FED4, 18-4130

Docket Nº:18-4130, 18-4135, 18-4148, 18-4249
Opinion Judge:RICHARDSON, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. ALEXANDER CAMPBELL, a/k/a Munch, Defendant-Appellant. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. ANTONIO SHROPSHIRE, a/k/a Brill, a/k/a B, a/k/a Tony, Defendant-Appellant. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. GLEN KYLE WELLS, a/k/a Lou, a/k/a Kyle, Defendant-Appellant. UNI...
Attorney:David W. Fischer, Sr., LAW OFFICES OF FISCHER & PUTZI, PA, Glen Burnie, Maryland; Richard S. Stolker, UPTOWN LAW LLC, Rockville, Maryland; Jonathan Alan Gladstone, Annapolis, Maryland; Megan Elizabeth Coleman, MARCUSBONSIB, LLC, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellants. Leo Joseph Wise, OFFICE OF THE ...
Judge Panel:Before KEENAN, FLOYD, and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:June 24, 2020
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

ALEXANDER CAMPBELL, a/k/a Munch, Defendant-Appellant.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

ANTONIO SHROPSHIRE, a/k/a Brill, a/k/a B, a/k/a Tony, Defendant-Appellant.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

GLEN KYLE WELLS, a/k/a Lou, a/k/a Kyle, Defendant-Appellant.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

ANTOINE WASHINGTON, a/k/a Twan, Defendant-Appellant.

Nos. 18-4130, 18-4135, 18-4148, 18-4249

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 24, 2020

Argued: October 31, 2019

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore. Catherine C. Blake, District Judge. (1:16-cr-00051-CCB-2; 1:16-cr-00051-CCB-3; 1:16-cr-00051-CCB-5; 1:16-cr-00051-CCB-1)

ARGUED:

David W. Fischer, Sr., LAW OFFICES OF FISCHER & PUTZI, PA, Glen Burnie, Maryland; Richard S. Stolker, UPTOWN LAW LLC, Rockville, Maryland; Jonathan Alan Gladstone, Annapolis, Maryland; Megan Elizabeth Coleman, MARCUSBONSIB, LLC, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellants.

Leo Joseph Wise, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Robert K. Hur, United States Attorney, Derek E. Hines, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

Before KEENAN, FLOYD, and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges.

RICHARDSON, Circuit Judge:

A jury convicted Defendants Alexander Campbell, Antonio Shropshire, Glen Kyle Wells, and Antoine Washington of participating in a heroin-distribution conspiracy and related substantive-drug-distribution offenses. Among the Defendants with substantive charges, Washington was convicted of distributing heroin that resulted in the death of a young woman. The Defendants each argue that the district court erred in a host of ways. But finding no error, we affirm.

I. Factual background

On December 28, 2011, a nineteen-year-old woman, J.L., died from a heroin overdose. Throughout the day before, J.L. and her acquaintance, Kenneth Diggins, injected themselves with the drug. At some point, Diggins passed out. When he regained consciousness around 4 a.m., he noticed the color had drained from J.L.'s face. Although Diggins called 911, she was beyond saving.

J.L. and Diggins had bought their heroin from Antoine Washington. This was not Washington's first time selling heroin-nor was it his last. After J.L.'s death, Diggins continued to buy heroin, through a friend of his, from Washington. After a few months, Diggins resumed business directly with Washington. And just a year after J.L.'s death, Washington marketed the quality of the heroin he was selling by touting yet another recent overdose: "[S]omebody OD'd yesterday, and shit was crazy. That's how good the shit is I got. So hit me up." J.A. 931. That same week, Diggins himself overdosed and was hospitalized-only then did he stop purchasing heroin from Washington.

Washington's dealings with J.L. and Diggins were only a small part of a much larger drug business. Alongside Alexander Campbell, Antonio Shropshire, Glen Kyle Wells, and others, Washington sold heroin in and around Baltimore, from at least 2010 until 2016, when law enforcement broke up the operation. The Defendants worked together to sell heroin, sharing phones, sources, and customers.

Maryland and federal law enforcement jointly exposed the Defendants' heroin ring and obtained a multi-count federal indictment. During a three-week trial, the Defendants' customers testified about their purchases, the government played recorded calls arranging drug deals and discussing the Defendants' business, and an undercover officer described a controlled buy. The jury also learned that the heroin ring was aided by a now-former Baltimore City Police Officer, Momodu Gondo. Having already pleaded guilty to participating in the drug conspiracy, Gondo testified that he abused his office to help his co-conspirators evade the police. He also described a home-invasion robbery of another drug dealer that he committed at Washington's request. Gondo carried out this robbery alongside Wells and another former police officer, Jemell Rayam (who also testified). They stole money, jewelry, and heroin-most of which Wells sold-and split the spoils with Washington.

After hearing this evidence (and much more), the jury convicted the Defendants. The district court sentenced Washington to 264 months' imprisonment, Shropshire to 300 months' imprisonment, and both Campbell and Wells to 188 months' imprisonment.

II. Analysis

The Defendants individually raise a total of six challenges to their convictions. We reject each and affirm.

A. Expert medical testimony

Washington argues the district court erred by admitting expert testimony on J.L.'s cause of death over his objection. According to Washington, Dr. Southall's statements were inadmissible because they were testimony about an "ultimate issue"-the cause of J.L.'s death-and were not helpful to the jury. See Fed. R. Evid. 702, 704(a). First, Dr. Southall testified that "[t]he cause of [J.L.'s] death was heroin intoxication." J.A. 1038. The prosecution then asked, "but for the heroin J.L. took, would she have lived?" Id. (emphasis added). And the doctor answered, "Yes." Id. We review the district court's decision to permit this testimony for abuse of discretion and find none here. See United States v. Landersman, 886 F.3d 393, 411 (4th Cir. 2018).

To begin with, we note that expert testimony addressing an ultimate issue is no longer categorically inadmissible. Although the common law barred such testimony, "Rule 704(a) was designed specifically to abolish the 'ultimate issue' rule." United States v. Barile, 286 F.3d 749, 759 (4th Cir. 2002). Rule 704(a) provides that otherwise admissible opinion testimony "is not objectionable just because it embraces an ultimate issue." Fed.R.Evid. 704(a). But while Rule 704(a) removes a common-law ground for excluding testimony, it says nothing about whether an expert opinion should be admitted in the first place. See Barile, 286 F.3d at 759. For that, courts must look to Rule 702.

To analyze Washington's objection, we start with the text of Rule 702, which provides for the admission of expert witness testimony if: (a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;

(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;

(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and

(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Referring to subsection (a), our Court has explained that whether testimony "assist[s] the trier of fact" is the "touchstone" of Rule 702. Friendship Heights Associates v. Vlastimil Koubek, A.I.A., 785 F.2d 1154, 1159 (4th Cir. 1986) (internal quotations and citation omitted). And if not helpful to the jury's understanding, an expert's opinion is inadmissible. Kopf v. Skyrm, 993 F.2d 374, 377-78 (4th Cir. 1993). Washington focuses his argument on this helpfulness requirement of Rule 702.1

Washington argues that, because Dr. Southall testified about the "but-for cause" of death using the same but-for language as the jury instructions, Dr. Southall's opinion was an unhelpful legal conclusion. And we have recognized that "[e]xpert testimony that merely states a legal conclusion is less likely to assist the jury in its determination." Barile, 286 F.3d at 760; see also United States v. McIver, 470 F.3d 550, 562 (4th Cir. 2006) (noting that opinion testimony that states a legal standard or draws a legal conclusion is "generally inadmissible"). But this guidance on whether a legal conclusion is "likely to assist" is necessarily general: "The line between a permissible opinion on an ultimate issue and an impermissible legal conclusion is not always easy to discern." McIver, 470 F.3d at 562. And drawing that line requires a case-specific inquiry of the charges, the testimony, and the context in which it was made.

In appropriate circumstances, an expert may offer an opinion that applies the facts to a legal standard. And applying medical expertise to form an opinion on the cause of death is often the type of specialized knowledge that can help a jury. See, e.g., United States v. Chikvashvili, 859 F.3d 285, 292-94 (4th Cir. 2017) (affirming the admission of a doctor's "expert opinion on causation" of death); United States v. Alvarado, 816 F.3d 242, 246 (4th Cir. 2016) (affirming the district court's admission of an expert witness' testimony that "without the heroin, [Thomas] doesn't die"); United States v. Krieger, 628 F.3d 857, 870-71 (7th Cir. 2010) (affirming "death results" conviction based on expert testimony identifying which drug, out of multiple, was the but-for cause of death); see also In re Lipitor (Atorvastatin Calcium) Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation (No II) MDL 2502, 892 F.3d 624, 646-47 (4th Cir. 2018) (discussing the frequent need for expert testimony to establish that a drug was the cause of death). Indeed, medical testimony about drug toxicity in the body and a cause of death as determined during an autopsy are generally well beyond the jury's common knowledge.

As a result, Washington argues that Dr. Southall's testimony was impermissible because she embraced the legal term of art "but-for." Indeed, difficult questions often emerge when the expert's opinion relies on terms with "separate, distinct and specialized meaning in the law different from that present in the vernacular." Barile, 286 F.3d at 760 (cleaned up); see also United States v. Offill, 666 F.3d 168, 175 (4th Cir. 2011)...

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