USA. v. Fields

Decision Date13 March 2001
Docket NumberNo. 99-3138,No. 99-3139,99-3138,99-3139
Citation345 U.S.App.D.C. 205,242 F.3d 393
Parties(D.C. Cir. 2001) United States of America, Appellee v. Thomas Fields, a/k/a Woozie, Appellant Consolidated with
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 98cr00071-01) (No. 98cr00071-06)

William Jackson Garber, appointed by the court, argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant Thomas Fields.

Thomas G. Corcoran, Jr. and Mary-Ellen Noone, appointed by the court, argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant Bernard Johnson.

Barbara J. Valliere, Assistant United States Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Wilma A. Lewis, United States Attorney, John R. Fisher and James H. Dinan, Assistant United States Attorneys.

Before: Edwards, Chief Judge, Ginsburg and Tatel, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Chief Judge Edwards.

Edwards, Chief Judge:

Thomas "Woozie" Fields and Bernard "Tadpole" Johnson appeal from judgments of convictions following a jury trial in the District Court. We affirm the convictions of both defendants. However, because we find that plain errors in sentencing affected defendants' substantial rights and undermined the fairness of the sentencing proceedings, we vacate the sentences and remand the case to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

This case involves the prosecution and conviction of two members of a coterie known to the Government as the "L Street Crew." In March 1998, a Federal Grand Jury in the District of Columbia returned a 70-count Indictment charging Fields, Johnson, and nine other individuals with Continuing Criminal Enterprise, Conspiracy to Participate in a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization ("RICO Conspiracy"), and various drug trafficking, firearm, and violent offenses. In October 1998, Fields, Johnson, and two other defendants were named in a Superseding 74-count Indictment charging virtually the same offenses. In May 1999, a 64-count Superseding Re-typed Indictment named Fields and Johnson alone.

The May 1999 Indictment charged Fields and Johnson with narcotics conspiracy (Count 1), RICO conspiracy (Count 3), the kidnaping, gang rape, and attempted murder of a young woman referred to herein as K.D. (Counts 12-18), firearms offenses in connection with that rape (Counts 37-38, and 4953), the attempted murder of an unknown individual in January 1997 (Counts 32, 33), and firearms offenses related thereto (Counts 45 and 61). Fields was charged, in addition to the above offenses, with continuing criminal enterprise (Count 2), assaults with a dangerous weapon (Counts 4 and 5), assaults with intent to kill, kidnaping, and attempted murder in aid of racketeering activity (Counts 6-11, 19-31), related firearms offenses (Counts 34-36, 39-44, 46-48, 54-60), and money laundering (Counts 62-64).

During the trial, the Government presented evidence of attempted murders, assaults, a kidnaping, and a gang rape. According to the Government's theory of the case, these alleged crimes were motivated by the L Street Crew's desire to protect or expand the area in which the group sold and distributed drugs. Fields took the stand during the trial and admitted to selling drugs to certain individuals, but denied that he held any leadership role with respect to the L Street Crew. Johnson did not testify.

The jury convicted Fields on 40 counts and Johnson on 16 counts. Both Fields' and Johnson's convictions included those for the rape and attempted murder of K.D. At the sentencing hearing, the trial judge adopted the calculations in the Presentence Investigation Report ("PIR"), as well as the Government's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and sentenced Fields to life plus 120 years, and Johnson to life plus 25 years.

II. Analysis

In this appeal, Fields and Johnson seek review of myriad issues relating to their convictions and sentencing. They assert challenges to venue, sufficiency of the evidence, admission of evidence, joinder of defendants, failure to sever certain counts, the firearms and other sentence enhancements, and calculation of their sentences in light of the Supreme Court's holding in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000). We have considered carefully all of appellants' arguments; most of appellants' claims require no discussion, because they are meritless. There are two challenges, however, that have merit. We address these claims below.

A. Determinations of drug quantity

Appellants contend that the sentences they received on Counts 1 (Narcotics Conspiracy) and 3 (RICO Conspiracy) were improperly enhanced beyond the statutory maximum, because the finding as to drug quantity was not made by a jury. The PIR, prepared after the jury trial, divided Fields' 40 counts of conviction into six groups involving substantially the same harm, and Johnson's 16 counts of conviction into two such groups. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual 3D1.2 (1998) (rules for grouping closely related counts). Counts 1 and 3 were included in Group 1, along with Counts 62-64 (Money Laundering). The PIR listed the base offense level for both defendants at 38; this determination was derived from an assumption that the offenses involved more than the equivalent of 30,000 kilograms of marijuana. The PIR attributed 173,570 kilograms to Fields and 148,862 kilograms to Johnson. In reaching these estimates, the PIR purported to rely on testimony provided by members of the L Street Crew at the trial.

In Apprendi, the Court held that, "[o]ther than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." 120 S. Ct. at 2362-63. It therefore follows that drug quantity is an element of the offense where a factual determination of the amount of drugs at issue may result in a sentence that exceeds a maximum sentence prescribed in the applicable statute. See, e.g., United States v. Pratt, 239 F.3d 640, 646-47 (4th Cir.2001); United States v. Aguayo-Delgado, 220 F.3d 926, 933 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 121 S. Ct. 600 (2000); United States v. Doggett, 230 F.3d 160, 164-65 (5th Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 69 U.S.L.W. 3555 (U.S. Feb. 20, 2001) (No. 00-7819). This court's ruling to the contrary in United States v. Lam Kwong-Wah, 966 F.2d 682, 685-86 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 901 (1992), is no longer good law. In light of Apprendi, it is now clear that, in drug cases under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846, before a defendant can be sentenced to any of the progressively higher statutory maximums that are based on progressively higher quantities of drugs specified in subsections 841(b)(1)(A) or (B), the Government must state the drug type and quantity in the indictment, submit the required evidence to the jury, and prove the relevant drug quantity beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the instant case, the Government did not come close to satisfying the requirements of Apprendi. The Indictment specified quantities of drugs alleged to be involved in Counts 1 and 3, but the verdict form asked only that the jury find "detectable amount[s]" of marijuana, crack cocaine, and phencyclidine ("PCP") in order to find the defendants guilty. Therefore, it cannot be found that the jury's convictions on those counts were based on any specific factual findings as to drug quantity. It was only in connection with Count 2 (Continuing Criminal Enterprise) that the verdict form required specific findings that defendants distributed 1.5 kilograms or more of crack cocaine and 3,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, and the jury deadlocked on these issues.

It is undisputed that the quantity of controlled substances involved was a decisive factor in the defendants' sentences. The sentencing range for violations of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (1994 & Supp. IV 1998) is determined by drug quantities. Section 841(b)(1)(A) of Title 21 provides for a maximum penalty of life where the offense involves 1,000 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, and 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) provides for a maximum sentence of 40 years where the offense involves 100 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana. Default statutory maximums of five to 30 years are provided in §§ 841(b)(1)(C) and (D).

In this case, there were no substantive controlled substance act offenses charged under 21 U.S.C. § 841. However, the Narcotics Conspiracy Count was charged under 21 U.S.C. § 846, and alleged a conspiracy to unlawfully possess with intent to distribute and to distribute controlled substances in excess of 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, 50 grams or more of cocaine base, and 100 grams or more of PCP, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(ii)-(iv), (vii). The RICO Conspiracy charged under Count 3 also alleged 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) violations.

At the sentencing hearing, the District Court adopted the calculations in the PIR, as well as the Government's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and found "well above" the preponderance standard that 1,670 grams of crack cocaine, 11,388 grams of PCP, and 3,490 kilograms of marijuana were "directly attributable to defendant Thomas Fields" during the course of the charged conspiracy. With respect to Johnson, the District Court found that 1,670 grams of crack, 11,328 grams of PCP, and 2,182 kilograms of marijuana were "reasonably foreseeable and part of jointly undertaken activity by defendant Johnson, and therefore are appropriately attributable to him." The life sentences imposed on appellants were predicated in part on these calculations.

The District Court's sentence enhancements contravene Apprendi. However, neither defendant objected at trial to the District Court's...

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