United States v. Young

Decision Date26 January 2017
Docket NumberNos. 14-6081/14-6451/15-5045/15-5738,s. 14-6081/14-6451/15-5045/15-5738
Citation847 F.3d 328
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Chris YOUNG (14–6081); Alto Parnell (14–6451); Brian Vance (15–5045); Demetrius Duncan (15–5738), Defendants–Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ARGUED: James G. Thomas, Neal & Harwell, PLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 14–6081. William Nolan, University of Michigan Law School Federal Appellate Litigation Clinic, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Appellant in 14–6451. Manuel B. Russ, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 15–5045. Benjamin H. Perry, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 15–5738. Finnuala K. Tessier, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: James G. Thomas, Andrew A. Warth, Neal & Harwell, PLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 14–6081. William Nolan, Melissa M. Salinas, University of Michigan Law School Federal Appellate Litigation Clinic, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Appellant in 14–6451. Manuel B. Russ, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 15–5045. Benjamin H. Perry, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant in 15–5738. Finnuala K. Tessier, Sunny A.M. Koshy, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before: KEITH, BATCHELDER, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

CLAY, Circuit Judge.

Defendants Chris Young ("Young"), Demetrius Duncan ("Duncan"), Alto Parnell ("Parnell"), and Brian Vance ("Vance") (collectively, "Defendants") appeal their convictions and sentences (collectively, "judgments") entered by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee for conspiracy, inter alia , to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and 280 grams or more of cocaine base. The district court sentenced Vance to 200–months' imprisonment, and sentenced Young and Parnell each to two concurrent terms of mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and Duncan to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

For the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM the district court's judgments for all four Defendants.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of a multi-year investigation into a large drug-trafficking organization in Clarksville, Tennessee. The leader of the organization, Robert Porter ("Porter"), distributed large quantities of cocaine to Vance, Young, and others. Vance distributed powder and crack cocaine to Parnell, Duncan, and others, using a stash house in the Summit Heights housing projects and a cookhouse nearby. Parnell and Duncan then sold the cocaine and crack cocaine to Clarksville residents. Federal agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") obtained wiretap applications and search warrants, which provided the government with enough evidence to arrest twenty-six individuals associated with the drug trafficking organization, including Defendants.

Porter was in the process of selling thousands of dollars of cocaine to Young when he was arrested. The morning after Porter's arrest, agents executed search warrants and seized drugs, guns, cash, and drug paraphernalia from the homes of Duncan, Vance, and others. In total, thirty-six individuals were charged in an indictment. Thirty-three of those individuals pleaded guilty, including Vance, who was sentenced to a below Guidelines term of 200–months' imprisonment. Duncan, Young, and Parnell went to trial, and were each found guilty of multiple offenses and sentenced to mandatory terms of life imprisonment without parole.

Procedural History
A. Indictment

On January 12, 2011, a grand jury charged Vance, Duncan, Parnell, and Young in a four-count indictment with conspiracy, among other things, to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, including 500 grams or more of cocaine and 280 grams or more of cocaine base, otherwise known as crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 (Count One). Vance was also charged with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of § 841(a)(1) (Count Two).

B. Superseding Indictment

On April 17, 2013, a grand jury returned a twenty-two count superseding indictment charging, among other things, Duncan, Parnell, and Young with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and 280 grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846, and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count One).

Vance was also charged with being an accessory after the fact to a Hobbs Act violation and to possession and discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951, 924(c), and 924(j) and 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 3 (Count Eight) and conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 and 2 (Count Nine).

Duncan and Parnell were separately charged with possessing cocaine and crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a public housing authority with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 860 and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count Four). Duncan was individually charged with: possession of cocaine base and marijuana with intent to distribute, in violation of § 841(a)(1) (Count Sixteen); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 and § 924(c) (Count Seventeen); and being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924 (Count Eighteen). Young was also charged separately with: attempted possession of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school with intent to distribute, in violation of §§ 841(a)(1), 846, and 860 (Count Eleven); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 and § 924(c) (Count Twelve); and being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of §§ 922(g)(1) and 924 (Count Thirteen).1

C. Vance Pleads Guilty to Remaining Charges

Vance pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and possession charges on April 15, 2013. On June 10, 2013, Vance pleaded guilty to both Hobbs Act counts, and on September 16, 2013, the district court sentenced Vance to a 200–month term of imprisonment and a five year term of supervised release.

D. Trial and Sentencing

On August 6, 2013, trial commenced on the remaining counts for Young, Duncan, and Parnell. The government provided evidence in the form of testimony from five co-conspirators and a witness to a warranted search of Duncan's residence, testimony from law enforcement agents, more than two hundred intercepted phone conversations between co-conspirators, surveillance footage, and evidence seized during the warranted searches and arrests. The jury convicted Duncan, Parnell, and Young on all counts, except for Duncan, who was acquitted on Count Four.

On September 28, 2014, the district court sentenced Young to concurrent mandatory terms of life imprisonment on the drug-related offenses (Counts One and Eleven). On November 24, 2014, the district court sentenced Parnell to concurrent mandatory terms of life imprisonment on Counts One and Four. On April 27, 2015, the district court sentenced Duncan to a mandatory term of life imprisonment on Count One.

Statement of Facts

Robert Porter, the leader of the Vice Lords drug organization, trafficked large amounts of cocaine in Clarksville, Tennessee. Porter obtained the cocaine from suppliers, such as Quinice Cross and Gregory Brooks ("Brooks"). Brooks testified at trial that he supplied Porter with 10 kilograms of cocaine between 2009 and 2010, with each kilogram costing between $30,000 and $35,000. Porter would then supply Vance, Young, and others with cocaine. Donnie Patterson ("Patterson"), a co-conspirator, testified at trial that Porter would supply him with a quarter to half a kilogram of cocaine about twice a week. Patterson also testified that he saw Porter supply Vance with cocaine. Dmitri Johnson ("Johnson"), another co-conspirator, testified that he saw Porter cook powder cocaine into crack cocaine at his home on a regular basis, and that he witnessed Porter supply crack cocaine to Young at least twice.

A. Young's Involvement in the Conspiracy

Intercepted telephone conversations between Young and Porter and surveillance footage revealed that Porter had provided Young with tens of thousands of dollars of cocaine for distribution. For instance, on September 12, 2010, Young told Porter that he was "waitin on one more person" and with that he should have "fifty five all together," or $5,500, for the cocaine that Porter had provided him. (Appendix A GX 98a.)

Porter also taught Young how to cook crack cocaine. During a long phone call on September 18, 2010, Young discussed with Porter his concern that he was not producing all of the crack he could be, due to his inability to properly cook the powder. "I clearly seen when I knocked it down that it was not all that it was supposed to be ... [It] wasn't nothin but twelve but I'm wonderin like why and how did it be like that." (Appendix A GX 136a.) Porter then told Young that he was not "trippin ... I still [mess] up too ... so that aint your first time that aint goin to be your last." (Id .)

On December 9, 2010, a federal magistrate judge issued a search warrant. On December 10, 2010, agents executed the warrant for Porter while he was in the middle of selling cocaine to Young at a gas station. Agents located a cell phone inside Porter's car. They also found bundles of cash, totaling $10,190 underneath where Young was sitting in the vehicle and from his pants pocket. Additionally, the agents uncovered a loaded handgun, as well as a digital scale from the center console of Young's car. The scale was covered in white residue that later tested positive for cocaine. During trial, Young stipulated that he unlawfully possessed the loaded gun.

Although not directly related to Young's involvement in the conspiracy,...

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