United States v. Seabrooks

Decision Date19 October 2016
Docket NumberNo. 15–10380,15–10380
Citation839 F.3d 1326
Parties United States of America, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Isaac Seabrooks, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Rilwan Adeduntan, Amit Agarwal, Robert Craig Juman, Wifredo A. Ferrer, Kathleen Mary Salyer, Emily M. Smachetti, Ignacio Jesus Vazquez, Jr., Brooke C. Watson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, MIAMI, FL, for PlaintiffAppellee.

Brenda Greenberg Bryn, Timothy Day, Federal Public Defender's Office, FORT LAUDERDALE, FL, Michael Caruso, Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender's Office, MIAMI, FL, for DefendantAppellant.

Before HULL, MARTIN, and BALDOCK,* Circuit Judges.

HULL, Circuit Judge:

Defendant Isaac Seabrooks appeals his convictions and 188–month total sentence. A jury found him guilty on one count of being a convicted felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e), and one count of possessing a stolen firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(j). The district court determined that Seabrooks qualified as an armed career criminal under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), because he had six prior Florida armed robbery convictions, each of which qualified as a predicate “violent felony” under the ACCA.

After review of the record and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm Seabrooks's convictions and sentence.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Offense Conduct

On July 23, 2014, Qonsheka Smith, a park ranger, observed a Cadillac with two occupants, later identified as Nigel Butler and Isaac Seabrooks, pull into a parking lot in Grapeland Park. Butler was driving the Cadillac, which was stolen, and Seabrooks was sitting in the front passenger's seat. Butler and Seabrooks were both convicted felons.

Ranger Smith saw Butler roll down his window as he pulled into the parking lot. Smith observed the Cadillac park next to a vacant green truck owned by Jose Cruz Smith, an individual who was at Grapeland Park to watch his nephew's baseball game. Shortly after the Cadillac parked next to Cruz's truck, the occupant of a red car pulled into the parking lot, changed the diaper of a child in the car, and drove away. After the red car left the parking lot, Ranger Smith saw Butler exit the Cadillac, break into the passenger-side door of Cruz's truck, and remove several items from Cruz's truck.

Ranger Smith immediately radioed the police dispatcher to inform the police of a theft in progress. Ranger Smith described Butler's clothing and the Cadillac to the dispatcher. Though she mostly tried to remain hidden, Ranger Smith saw Butler remove items from the green truck, place them inside the Cadillac, return to the driver's seat of the Cadillac, and drive away. Ranger Smith never saw Seabrooks exit the Cadillac.

Soon after the Cadillac drove away, the police arrived in the parking lot, interviewed Ranger Smith for about five minutes, and left. A short time after the police left, Ranger Smith observed the same Cadillac return to the parking lot. Ranger Smith radioed the police dispatcher again to inform the police that the Cadillac had returned. After remaining in the parking lot for some time, the Cadillac attempted to leave the parking lot, but the police arrived and blocked the parking lot exit.

Lieutenant Ariel Rojas, a Miami police officer, pointed his firearm at the driver of the Cadillac and ordered him to exit the vehicle. In response, Butler, who was still driving, and Seabrooks, who was still in the passenger's seat, put their hands up, exited the vehicle, and laid on the ground. Police officers then arrested Butler and Seabrooks.

After Butler and Seabrooks exited the Cadillac, Rojas looked inside and saw three firearms—(1) a holstered revolver laying on the driver's side floorboard, (2) a semi-automatic pistol, housed in a black gun pouch, laying on top of a cushioned backrest on the passenger's side seat, and (3) a revolver, with no case or holster, wedged between the driver's seat and front passenger's seat. Police officers recovered the firearms from the Cadillac and discovered that they were all loaded.1

Police officers contacted Cruz shortly after the theft. Cruz confirmed that his truck was parked at the Grapeland Park parking lot at the time of the theft. Cruz further confirmed that the handle of the passenger-side door of his truck was damaged, as he observed a hole in the handle that was used to gain access to his truck.

Police officers showed the firearms recovered from the Cadillac to Cruz, and Cruz confirmed the firearms were his. Cruz typically stored those firearms inside his truck. Cruz kept the firearms in pouches or holsters to protect the surfaces of the firearms.

B. Seabrooks's Post–Arrest Statements

Orlando Merced was one of the police officers who responded to the dispatch call to Grapeland Park. Officer Merced approached a handcuffed Seabrooks to conduct a fingerprint identification with a portable device. Seabrooks asked what the device was for and Officer Merced responded that it was for identification and to see if Seabrooks touched the gun. Seabrooks stated, “Oh, well, I touched the little gun, Officer .... You'll find my fingerprints on the small gun.”

In a post-Miranda police interview, Seabrooks admitted that he took all three firearms from Butler and placed them in the console of the Cadillac. According to Seabrooks, one of the items that Butler handed to him was a black pouch obtained from Cruz's truck. Seabrooks opened the pouch and saw that it contained a semi-automatic pistol. Seabrooks stated that he [didn't] want no guns around [him], period,” so he put the gun and pouch in the center armrest.

Seabrooks stated that he did not know Butler intended to steal firearms from Cruz's truck and repeatedly contended that he never got out of the car and, therefore, did not participate in the theft. Seabrooks explained that the intent was “not to go get no guns,” but [t]he intent was just try to get some money.” Seabrooks acknowledged, however, that he remained in the Cadillac while Butler broke into Cruz's truck and handed over the stolen firearms.

When told he was being charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, Seabrooks was adamant that he did not “possess” any of the firearms, as he only incidentally handled a single firearm that he quickly stored away from his person. In fact, Seabrooks claimed that he and Butler returned to the parking lot so that they could return the guns to Cruz's truck.

C. Indictment, Trial, Jury Instructions, and Guilty Verdict

A federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Butler and Seabrooks.

The indictment charged Butler and Seabrooks each with committing one count of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(g)(1) and 924(e)(1) (Count 1), and one count of possessing a stolen firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(j) (Count 2). Butler pled guilty to both counts in the indictment. Seabrooks proceeded to trial.

At trial, the government presented several witnesses. In relevant part, Ranger Smith testified about how she witnessed the theft of items from Cruz's truck; Lieutenant Rojas testified about the apprehension of the defendants and the firearms recovered from the Cadillac; and Cruz testified that those firearms were stolen from his truck. While Seabrooks did not testify, the government introduced to the jury Seabrooks's post-arrest statement to Officer Merced, as well as the admissions he made to police in his post-Miranda interview.

Before resting, the government read the jury a stipulation signed by counsel for both parties stating that: (1) Seabrooks previously was convicted of a felony involving theft and the possession of a firearm; (2) Butler previously was convicted of the felony offense of burglary of an unoccupied conveyance; and (3) neither Seabrooks nor Butler had had their rights restored and, therefore, neither was legally allowed to possess a firearm or ammunition.

Prior to closing arguments, Seabrooks objected to the inclusion of an aiding and abetting jury instruction on the grounds that the evidence did not warrant that instruction. The government responded that the instruction was proper, recounting the evidence presented. The district court overruled the objection, concluding that “the aiding and abetting instruction is proper with regard to Mr. Seabrooks'[s] participation.”

The district court's jury instruction on aiding and abetting stated:

It is possible to prove the Defendant guilty of a crime even without evidence that the Defendant personally performed every act charged. Ordinarily, any act a person can do may be done by directing another person or agent or it may be done by acting with or under the direction of others.
A defendant aids and abets another person if the defendant intentionally joins with a person to commit a crime.
A defendant is criminally responsible for the acts of another person if the defendant aids and abets the other person.
A defendant is also responsible if the defendant willfully directs or authorizes the acts of an agent, employee or other associate. But finding that a defendant is criminally responsible for the acts of another person requires proof that the defendant intentionally associated with or participated with the crime, not just proof that the defendant was simply present at the scene of a crime or knew about it. In other words, you must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was a willful participant and not merely a knowing spectator.

The jury found Seabrooks guilty on both counts.

D. Sentencing

The Presentence Investigation Report (“PSI”) recommended a base offense level of 20, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(4)(B). The PSI also recommended (1) a 2–level increase under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(1)(A) because the offense involved three firearms, (2) a 2–level increase under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(4) because the offense involved stolen firearms, (3) a 4–level increase under U.S.S.G....

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    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-Annual Review, August 2022
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