United States v. Williams, Nos. 18-6343/19-5745/5764

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBERNICE BOUIE DONALD, Circuit Judge.
Citation998 F.3d 716
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Johnny WILLIAMS (18-6343); Jonathan Barrett (19-5745); Joedon Bradley (19-5764), Defendants-Appellants.
Decision Date26 May 2021
Docket NumberNos. 18-6343/19-5745/5764

998 F.3d 716

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Johnny WILLIAMS (18-6343); Jonathan Barrett (19-5745); Joedon Bradley (19-5764), Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 18-6343/19-5745/5764

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Argued: November 18, 2020
Decided and Filed: May 26, 2021


ARGUED: Steven R. Jaeger, THE JAEGER FIRM PLLC, Erlanger, Kentucky, for Appellant in 18-6343. Michael E. Terry, TERRY & GORE, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 19-5745. Matthew M. Robinson, ROBINSON & BRANDT, PSC, Covington, Kentucky, for Appellant in 19-5764. Amanda J. Klopf, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Steven R. Jaeger, THE JAEGER FIRM PLLC, Erlanger, Kentucky, for Appellant in 18-6343. Michael E. Terry, Stephanie H. Gore, TERRY & GORE, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 19-5745. Matthew M. Robinson, ROBINSON & BRANDT, PSC, Covington, Kentucky, for Appellant in 19-5764. Amanda J. Klopf, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Before: COLE, DONALD, and READLER, Circuit Judges.

BERNICE BOUIE DONALD, Circuit Judge.

998 F.3d 726

Johnny Williams, Jonathan Barrett, and Joedon Bradley (collectively, "the defendants") were indicted for conspiring with each other and six other individuals to distribute fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C), and 846. Each defendant was also charged with multiple counts of distributing and possessing with the intent to distribute fentanyl, the use of which resulted in serious bodily injury or death, in violation of § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. A jury found the defendants guilty on all counts. Each defendant filed a separate appeal, which this Court consolidated. The defendants challenge the sufficiency of the evidence as to their convictions and the district court's denial of pre-trial motions. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the convictions as to all three defendants.

I.

In May 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") was investigating the distribution of counterfeit prescription pills in Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The DEA raided the home of Eric Falkowski—the primary target of the investigation—and found tableting machines, bags of powders, and dyes. Soon thereafter, Joedon Bradley approached Falkowski, wanting to move Falkowski's drug business to Tennessee. Once in Madison, Tennessee, Falkowski and Bradley pressed thousands of pills containing a mixture of alprazolam, acetaminophen, and fentanyl. The white pills were marked with an "A333" stamp and looked nearly identical to Percocet pills.

On July 5, 2016, a large quantity of those counterfeit pills was distributed in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. On July 6, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel attended to several victims who overdosed on the counterfeit pills, which the victims thought were 10 mg Percocet pills. One individual died from the overdose, while seven other individuals had to be hospitalized. An investigation revealed that Jennifer Dogonski had brokered an agreement between Johnny Williams and Jonathan Barrett for the purchase of 150 pills.

On July 7, law enforcement then executed a search warrant for Barrett's home, where it found approximately 70 Xanax pills, but not the counterfeit pills. Law enforcement arrested Barrett and took him to the Murfreesboro Police Department ("MPD"), where law enforcement interrogated him and had him sign a written statement about his conduct before releasing him. Barrett then returned to the MPD days later for another recorded interrogation. During this second interrogation, on July 11, Barrett explained that he had purchased, and later distributed, 150 counterfeit Percocet pills in a deal Dogonski brokered between Williams and him. Barrett also acknowledged that he had traded the last of his counterfeit pills for the Xanax pills found in his home with the overdose victim who died.

Law enforcement also interrogated Johnny Williams on July 7, 2016. During the interrogation, Williams decided to terminate questioning. The officers released Williams but, on his way out, they convinced him to come back to finish the interview. They read him his Miranda rights and Williams signed a waiver. During the interview, Williams stated that he received a call from Dogonski, who asked Williams if he had any oxycodone or Percocet pills. Williams admitted that he sold Dogonski the counterfeit Percocet pills, which he had obtained from "Bo." Following

998 F.3d 727

the interview, Williams was allowed to leave, but law enforcement seized his cell phone on the belief that it contained evidence of criminal activity. Four hours later, the officers obtained and executed a search warrant on the phone, where they discovered that Williams had exchanged text messages with Dogonski about the sale of the pills. Based on the information recovered from the search of his cell phone, a search warrant was later issued for Williams’ apartment.

Law enforcement identified Davi Valles, Jr. as "Bo." Valles had purchased approximately 400 of the counterfeit pills from Preston Davis. Davis later admitted to manufacturing the pills with Falkowski and Bradley. In executing a search warrant at Davis’ home, law enforcement found fentanyl, a pill press, and a pill die stamped with "A333." Law enforcement also searched Falkowski's phone and found text messages between him and Bradley discussing the manufacture and distribution of the pills. On December 22, 2016, law enforcement arrested Bradley. Once handcuffed, he admitted his involvement in manufacturing and distributing the pills with Falkowski.

On May 10, 2017, a federal grand jury issued a 10-count indictment, charging the defendants with crimes related to the distribution of fentanyl. Davis and Dogonski were each charged separately and made plea deals with the government. Between the Fourth and Fifth Superseding indictments, Falkowski, Valles, and LaKrista Knowles (a mid-level distributor) were removed as defendants after making plea deals with the government. Bradley was added to all nine substantive counts under an aiding-and-abetting theory. The remaining four defendants (Bradley, Barrett, Williams, and Jason Moss) were charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectible amount of fentanyl under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C), and 846 ; and eight counts of distribution of a substance containing a detectible amount of fentanyl, the use of which resulted in serious bodily injury or death, under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Counts Six and Ten listed only Bradley, although the government voluntarily dismissed Count Six before trial.

At trial, the government introduced the defendants’ statements obtained during questioning, as well as testimony from law enforcement officers, medical examiners, and victims. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts as to Bradley, Barrett, and Williams (but found Moss not guilty on all counts). In doing so, the jury found that the pills were the but-for cause of the harm to the victims. The district court then sentenced Williams to 240 months’ imprisonment, Barrett to 276 months’ imprisonment and Bradley to 360 months’ imprisonment. The defendants filed timely notices of appeal, and now raise several challenges to their convictions.

II.

Defendants raise several sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenges. We address these challenges first to determine whether there can be a retrial. See United States v. Parkes , 668 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 2012).

In sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenges, "the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) (emphasis omitted). It is the jury's job "to resolve conflicts in the

998 F.3d 728

testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts." Id. "[O]ur court on appeal will reverse a judgment for insufficiency of evidence only if this judgment is not supported by substantial and competent evidence upon the record as a whole, and this rule applies whether the evidence is direct or wholly circumstantial." United States v. Stone , 748 F.2d 361, 363 (6th Cir. 1984).

A. Existence of a Conspiracy (Count One)

All three defendants assert that there is insufficient evidence of a single conspiracy. Bradley and Barrett specifically argue that the evidence shows they only had a buyer–seller relationship with other defendants, but not an actual agreement. Bradley further asserts that the evidence, at best, shows multiple conspiracies rather than a single conspiracy, resulting in a prejudicial variance from the indictment.

1. In order "[t]o sustain a conviction for drug conspiracy under section 846, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) an agreement to violate drug laws; (2) knowledge of and intent to join the conspiracy; and (3)...

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14 practice notes
  • United States v. Hills, 19-3372
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • March 3, 2022
    ...to show that the "judgment is not supported by substantial and competent evidence upon the record as a whole." United States v. Williams, 998 F.3d 716, 728 (6th Cir. 2021) (citation omitted). "[T]he relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the ......
  • Johnson v. Bobby, 2:08-cv-55
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • December 28, 2021
    ...” Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319, to resolve any conflicts in the testimony or issues of witness credibility, see United States v. Williams, 998 F.3d 716, 727-28 (6th Cir. 2021), quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. Because the jury convicted Petitioner of the aggravated kidnapping charge, a reviewi......
  • Comcast of Or. II, Inc. v. City of Beaverton, 3:20-cv-1225-SI
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • June 29, 2022
    ...as valid the FCC's 19 mixed-use rule as stated in the Third Order, which extended the rule to incumbent cable operators. City of Eugene, 998 F.3d at 716. As the City points out, the Sixth Circuit in City of Eugene rejected one of the FCC's asserted statutory bases for applying the mixed-use......
  • United States v. Sadler, s. 19-2217/2221/20-1177
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • January 21, 2022
    ...drug laws; (2) knowledge of and intent to join the conspiracy; and (3) participation in the conspiracy." United States v. Williams , 998 F.3d 716, 728 (6th Cir. 2021) (quoting United States v. Gardner , 488 F.3d 700, 710 (6th Cir. 2007) ). "An agreement can be tacit, not formal, and the ‘go......
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14 cases
  • United States v. Hills, 19-3372
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • March 3, 2022
    ...to show that the "judgment is not supported by substantial and competent evidence upon the record as a whole." United States v. Williams, 998 F.3d 716, 728 (6th Cir. 2021) (citation omitted). "[T]he relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the ......
  • Johnson v. Bobby, 2:08-cv-55
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • December 28, 2021
    ...” Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319, to resolve any conflicts in the testimony or issues of witness credibility, see United States v. Williams, 998 F.3d 716, 727-28 (6th Cir. 2021), quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. Because the jury convicted Petitioner of the aggravated kidnapping charge, a reviewi......
  • Comcast of Or. II, Inc. v. City of Beaverton, 3:20-cv-1225-SI
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • June 29, 2022
    ...as valid the FCC's 19 mixed-use rule as stated in the Third Order, which extended the rule to incumbent cable operators. City of Eugene, 998 F.3d at 716. As the City points out, the Sixth Circuit in City of Eugene rejected one of the FCC's asserted statutory bases for applying the mixed-use......
  • United States v. Hofstetter, s. 20-6245/6426/6427/6428
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 11, 2022
    ...can be tacit, not formal, and the ‘government may meet its burden of proof through circumstantial evidence.’ " United States v. Williams , 998 F.3d 716, 728 (6th Cir. 2021) (quoting United States v. Layne , 192 F.3d 556, 567 (6th Cir. 1999), cert. denied , 529 U.S. 1029, 120 S.Ct. 1443, 146......
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