United States v. Nyah

Citation35 F.4th 1100
Decision Date27 May 2022
Docket Number21-1490
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff - Appellee v. Meamen Jean NYAH, Defendant - Appellant
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)

Kyle J. Essley, Craig Peyton Gaumer, Kristin Herrera, Ryan W. Leemkuil, Mikaela Jo Shotwell, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Iowa, Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Andrew J. Dunn, Parrish & Kruidenier, Des Moines, IA, for Defendant-Appellant.

Meamen Jean Nyah, Bradford, PA, Pro Se.

Before LOKEN, GRUENDER, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

GRASZ, Circuit Judge.

Meamen Jean Nyah pointed a firearm at a police officer while fleeing a traffic stop. A jury later convicted Nyah of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon. Nyah appeals his conviction and sentence on numerous grounds. We affirm.

I. Background

Police Officer Nicholas Anderson clocked a car going almost twenty miles per hour over the speed limit with his radar one night and tried to initiate a stop. Despite Anderson's flashing patrol lights, the driver continued driving and eventually merged onto an interstate highway and fled from Anderson at over one hundred miles per hour. The fleeing car eventually crashed. Anderson then saw two suspects, one of whom was Nyah, running away from the wrecked car in different directions. Anderson pursued Nyah who, unbeknownst to Anderson, was the car's passenger rather than its driver.

Nyah eventually bolted behind a house despite Anderson's persistent commands to stop and warnings of: "Taser, taser, taser." Anderson eventually deployed his taser and Nyah fell to the ground. Undeterred, Nyah quickly jumped back up, picked up a black pistol off the ground nearby, and, despite Anderson's commands to drop it, pointed the pistol at Anderson. Anderson then shot Nyah. Officers later recovered a loaded black pistol from the same driveway.

Nyah survived, and a grand jury indicted him in the Central Division of the Southern District of Iowa with unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). Nyah moved to suppress the evidence seized after he was tased, including the black pistol. The district court1 held a hearing and denied the motion. The district court later transferred venue to the Eastern Division of the Southern District of Iowa. Nyah objected to the transfer, but the district court overruled the objection.

The case proceeded to jury selection, during which Nyah (who is black) objected to the racial makeup of the jury venire because no prospective jurors were black. The district court overruled this objection and later empaneled a jury.

At trial, the district court admitted into evidence, over Nyah's objection, nine images taken from music videos in 2015 and 2016 in which Nyah is holding firearms, some in which he is also smoking or in the vicinity of alcohol. Though Nyah stipulated to both his status as a felon and knowledge of being a felon, the district court concluded this evidence was relevant in deciding whether Nyah knowingly possessed the firearm in this case in December 2019 and admitted the images under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). The district court gave limiting instructions for the evidence when admitting it and again in the district court's final jury instructions.

The jury convicted Nyah as charged. At sentencing, the district court applied three United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("Guidelines") enhancements for possessing a stolen firearm, using a firearm in connection with another felony offense, and assaulting a police officer. The district court then calculated Nyah's final offense level as 26 and his criminal history category as IV, resulting in a recommended range of 92 to 115 months of imprisonment. The district court next refused to depart downward based on Nyah's assertion the Guidelines overrepresented his criminal history and ultimately sentenced Nyah to 96 months of imprisonment.

II. Analysis

Nyah appeals, challenging (A) the denial of his motion to suppress; (B) the transfer of venue; (C) the racial makeup of the jury venire; (D) the admission of the images underlying his prior conviction; (E) the three sentencing enhancements and the district court's refusal to depart downward; and (F) the substantive reasonableness of his sentence.

A. Motion to Suppress

Nyah initially argues the district court erroneously denied his motion to suppress. In evaluating the denial of a motion to suppress, we review the district court's legal conclusions de novo and factual findings for clear error. United States v. Robinson , 982 F.3d 1181, 1184 (8th Cir. 2020).

The Fourth Amendment protects a person from "unreasonable ... seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. Nyah asserts his seizure when Anderson tased him was unreasonable, so any evidence obtained must be excluded under the exclusionary rule. See Utah v. Strieff , 579 U.S. 232, 237, 136 S.Ct. 2056, 195 L.Ed.2d 400 (2016) (stating the exclusionary rule encompasses "evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality" as "fruit of the poisonous tree") (quoting Segura v. United States , 468 U.S. 796, 804, 104 S.Ct. 3380, 82 L.Ed.2d 599 (1984) ). We disagree.

Anderson's tasing of Nyah constituted a warrantless arrest. See Torres v. Madrid , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 989, 1003, 209 L.Ed.2d 190 (2021) ("[T]he application of physical force to the body of a person with intent to restrain is a seizure even if the person does not submit and is not subdued.").2 A warrantless arrest is reasonable only if supported by probable cause. United States v. Green , 9 F.4th 682, 690 (8th Cir. 2021). Probable cause exists "when the facts and circumstances are sufficient to lead a reasonable person to believe that the defendant has committed or is committing an offense." Id. (quoting Royster v. Nichols , 698 F.3d 681, 688 (8th Cir. 2012) ). It "requires only a probability or substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual showing of such activity." District of Columbia v. Wesby , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 577, 586, 199 L.Ed.2d 453 (2018) (quoting Illinois v. Gates , 462 U.S. 213, 243–44 n.13, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983) ).

Here, Anderson had probable cause to arrest Nyah. The district court found Anderson clocked a car travelling in excess of the speed limit with his radar, providing probable cause for a stop. See United States v. Fuehrer , 844 F.3d 767, 772 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that traffic violations provide probable cause to stop a car). While Nyah argues Anderson's testimony that Nyah committed a speeding violation was "suspect," Nyah does not show how the district court's factual finding that he committed a driving violation was clearly erroneous. See United States v. Cotton , 861 F.3d 1275, 1277 (8th Cir. 2017) ("Clear error exists where, viewing the record as a whole, we are left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.") (quoting United States v. Finley , 612 F.3d 998, 1002 (8th Cir. 2010) ). The car fled, leading to a high-speed chase at over one hundred miles per hour in the dark and resulting in the car crashing. Anderson then saw Nyah running away from the car, and Nyah ignored Anderson's verbal commands to stop. Anderson, not knowing which fleeing suspect was the driver, reasonably seized Nyah by tasing him after Nyah continually ignored orders to stop. See United States v. Flores-Lagonas , 993 F.3d 550, 560 (8th Cir. 2021) ("We have consistently held that a defendant's response to an arrest or Terry stop ... may constitute independent grounds for arrest."). We thus affirm the district court's denial of Nyah's motion to suppress.

B. Transfer of Division

Nyah next argues the district court erroneously transferred venue to the Eastern Division from the Central Division of the Southern District of Iowa. We disagree. The "district judge has broad discretion in determining where within a district a trial will be held, and to overturn the court's decision the defendant must prove abuse of that discretion or prejudice." United States v. Worthey , 716 F.3d 1107, 1112 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Stanko , 528 F.3d 581, 584 (8th Cir. 2008) ). Nyah proves neither here.

Nyah does not show the district court abused its discretion. First, the district court did not violate Nyah's Sixth Amendment rights. The Sixth Amendment "requires that a trial be held in the state and district where the crime was committed." Id. (quoting same). It does not, however, establish "a right to be tried in a particular division." Id. (quoting same). Here, Nyah's crime occurred in the Southern District of Iowa. Thus, the district court's choice of division within the Southern District did not violate the Sixth Amendment.

Next, the district court appropriately weighed the relevant factors in setting trial in the Eastern Division. Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 18, the district "court must set the place of trial within the district with due regard for the convenience of the defendant, any victim, and the witnesses, and the prompt administration of justice." Convenience of the defendant encompasses the ability of the defendant's "family, friends, and other supporters to attend trial." Stanko , 528 F.3d at 586. Here, the district court acknowledged the inconvenient distance for Nyah, his family, and other spectators but noted public transportation mitigated the inconvenience. It also considered the witnesses’ convenience, noting only the government identified witnesses besides Nyah yet expressed no concerns about transporting them. Finally, the district court considered the prompt administration of justice, specifying "this case needs to be tried" and observing the Eastern Division had a "significantly smaller degree" of COVID-19 infections and was open for in-court criminal trials. It noted the Central Division, in contrast, had a "very substantial backlog" of trials. We conclude the district court acted within its broad discretion when...

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