United States v. Johnson, No. 15–1076.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtSUTTON, Circuit Judge.
Citation803 F.3d 279
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Tremaine Bernard JOHNSON, Defendant–Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 15–1076.
Decision Date30 September 2015

803 F.3d 279

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee
v.
Tremaine Bernard JOHNSON, Defendant–Appellant.

No. 15–1076.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Sept. 30, 2015.


803 F.3d 280

ON BRIEF:Martin J. Beres, Clinton Township, Michigan, for Appellant. Mark Chasteen, United States Attorney's Office, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: BOGGS, SUTTON, and COOK, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

SUTTON, Circuit Judge.

Tremaine Johnson challenges two felon-in-possession convictions, one related to his possession of a rifle, the other to a handgun. The government concedes the rifle conviction cannot stand. We agree

803 F.3d 281

and vacate the conviction. The same is not true of the handgun conviction, which we affirm.

Twice in 2007, Johnson was charged in Florida with crimes involving robbery with a deadly weapon. Each time he entered a no-contest plea leading to a conviction. Johnson received a total sentence for the convictions of four years in jail. After his release and while on probation in Florida, Johnson moved to Michigan in violation of the terms of his probation. Law enforcement learned that Johnson was at the apartment of his girlfriend Sarah Tweedly in Michigan.

Several officers went to the apartment, where they found Tweedly but not Johnson. They also found a rifle under the bed. Tweedly explained to the officers that Johnson had brought the rifle with him when he moved in with her. She also said they had another gun in the apartment, but that, if it was not there, it was with Johnson, who was at work. Some of the officers went to Johnson's place of work, where they arrested him and found a handgun partially under the driver's seat of the car that he had driven to work.

A grand jury indicted Johnson on two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm—one count per gun. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). After firing two attorneys, he represented himself at trial with standby counsel at his side. A jury found Johnson guilty on each charge. The court sentenced him to two concurrent 60–month sentences.

On appeal, Johnson first claims that the rifle-possession conviction should be reversed because it rested on hearsay evidence. He is right. The government to its credit concedes the error and concedes that it was not harmless. We agree and vacate the conviction.

Johnson claims that the handgun conviction should meet a similar fate because (1) it too rested on improperly admitted hearsay evidence; (2) the court should not have allowed the jury to see the nature of Johnson's prior felony; and (3) the court improperly instructed the jury on an element of the crime. We consider each argument in turn.

Evidentiary challenges. Johnson targets three pieces of hearsay from the testimony of Terry Schimke, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Agent Schimke testified that Johnson's girlfriend (Tweedly) told him that (1) she owned the handgun; (2) the handgun was typically on a nightstand in the bedroom and, if it was not there, Johnson had it; and (3) the nightstand was on Johnson's side of the bed. Johnson argues that the court should never have admitted this hearsay evidence, and the government concedes as much.

Even if that is true, this evidence made little difference to the case because considerable other evidence showed that Johnson possessed the handgun. As we have said before, we may affirm a conviction “if the record contains substantial evidence apart from the improperly admitted evidence so that there is no reasonable probability that the admission made a difference to the jury's verdict.” United States v. Henderson, 626 F.3d 326, 334 (6th Cir.2010).

To show possession, the government had to prove that Johnson held the weapon or exercised dominion over it. See United States v. Walker, 734 F.3d 451, 455 (6th Cir.2013) ; United States v. Arnold, 486 F.3d 177, 183 (6th Cir.2007) (en banc). Plenty of evidence showed just that. The arresting officer testified that Johnson asked him what would happen to the car that he had driven to work. After the officer said that he was not sure, Johnson

803 F.3d 282

told the officer that there was a gun in the car. “Well, I'm going to be honest with you.... There's a gun under the front seat.” R. 73 at 81. Schimke and another officer involved in Johnson's arrest testified that they could not have driven the car without knowing that the loaded gun was there given its conspicuous location. That Johnson knew the gun was in the car and that it was located conspicuously within arm's length of him told the jury all it needed to know to convict him.

In the face of this testimony, the hearsay evidence had little role to play in supporting the government's theory of the case. The first piece of hearsay, Tweedly's statement that she owned the gun, favors Johnson, as it is easier to deny possession of someone else's gun. The second and third pieces—her statements that the gun was with Johnson if it was not in the bedroom, and that it was kept on Johnson's side of the bed when it was in the bedroom—are cumulative in light of Johnson's own statement saying he had the gun in the car within arm's length when he drove to work. Any error in admitting this evidence was harmless.

Johnson tries to fend off this conclusion by pointing out that no one found any of his fingerprints on the handgun. But fingerprints are a sufficient, not a necessary, requirement for a possession conviction. A forensic specialist added that finding such prints is “very rare,” R. 74 at 12, and we have many cases upholding similar convictions without fingerprint evidence, as one might expect given that the statute allows a conviction when one exercises dominion over, even if one does not hold, the gun at issue. See, e.g., United States v. Garcia, 758 F.3d 714, 721–22 (6th Cir.2014) ; Walker, 734 F.3d at 454–55, 458 ; Arnold, 486 F.3d at 181 ; United States v. Hibbler, 193 Fed.Appx. 445, 450 (6th Cir.2006). No precedent requires a defendant's fingerprints to be on a firearm in order to support a conviction that the defendant possessed the weapon.

Johnson doubts that the jury could have separated the prejudicial effect of the rifle hearsay evidence from the prejudicial effect of the handgun hearsay evidence. But he gives the jury too little credit. “A jury is presumed to follow its instructions.” Blueford v. Arkansas, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2044, 2051, 182 L.Ed.2d 937 (2012). The district court instructed the jury that...

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14 practice notes
  • United States v. Herrera, 19-2126
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • 27 Octubre 2022
    ...the defendant doesn't offer to stipulate. E.g., United States v. Gloster, 185 F.3d 910, 913 (D.C. Cir. 1999); 46 United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 283 (6th Cir. 2015); United States v. Jandreau, 611 F.3d 922, 924 n.2 (8th Cir. 2010). Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Baca also point to the lack of ......
  • Slusher v. Mackie, 4:16-cv-14029
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 11 Mayo 2020
    ...that the prosecutor's questions were not evidence. "A jury is presumed to follow its instructions." United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 282 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Blueford v. Arkansas, 599 U.S. 566, 606 (2012)). The use of subterfuge such as was engaged in by the prosecutor i......
  • Glaspie v. Rewerts, CIVIL 4:18-cv-12342
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 14 Septiembre 2021
    ...the trial court here issued a cautionary instruction, and juries are presumed to follow such instructions. United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 282 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Blueford v. Arkansas, 599 U.S. 566, 606 (2012)). In Ailstock, the Sixth Circuit specifically found that a mistrial w......
  • United States v. Forrester, No. 3:17-cr-00130
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee
    • 5 Marzo 2020
    ...purpose,’ " including "when they are directly probative of ‘an essential element of the crime.’ " United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 283 (6th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). This includes utilizing uncharged crimes or acts to establish the enterprise element of a RICO co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • United States v. Herrera, 19-2126
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • 27 Octubre 2022
    ...the defendant doesn't offer to stipulate. E.g., United States v. Gloster, 185 F.3d 910, 913 (D.C. Cir. 1999); 46 United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 283 (6th Cir. 2015); United States v. Jandreau, 611 F.3d 922, 924 n.2 (8th Cir. 2010). Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Baca also point to the lack of ......
  • Slusher v. Mackie, 4:16-cv-14029
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 11 Mayo 2020
    ...that the prosecutor's questions were not evidence. "A jury is presumed to follow its instructions." United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 282 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Blueford v. Arkansas, 599 U.S. 566, 606 (2012)). The use of subterfuge such as was engaged in by the prosecutor i......
  • Glaspie v. Rewerts, CIVIL 4:18-cv-12342
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 14 Septiembre 2021
    ...the trial court here issued a cautionary instruction, and juries are presumed to follow such instructions. United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 282 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Blueford v. Arkansas, 599 U.S. 566, 606 (2012)). In Ailstock, the Sixth Circuit specifically found that a mistrial w......
  • United States v. Forrester, No. 3:17-cr-00130
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee
    • 5 Marzo 2020
    ...purpose,’ " including "when they are directly probative of ‘an essential element of the crime.’ " United States v. Johnson, 803 F.3d 279, 283 (6th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). This includes utilizing uncharged crimes or acts to establish the enterprise element of a RICO co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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