USA. v. Fields, 99-3138

Decision Date12 June 2001
Docket NumberNo. 99-3138,No. 99-3139,99-3138,99-3139
Citation251 F.3d 1041
Parties(D.C. Cir. 2001) United States of America, Appellee v. Thomas Fields, a/k/a Woozie, Appellant Consolidated with Filed
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

On Appellee's Petition for Rehearing

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

Opinion for the Court filed by Chief Judge Edwards.

Edwards, Chief Judge:

In United States v. Fields, 242 F.3d 393 (D.C. Cir. 2001) ("Fields I"), issued on March 13, 2001, the sentences of defendants Thomas "Woozie" Fields and Bernard "Tadpole" Johnson were vacated and the case was remanded to the District Court for resentencing. The Government now petitions for rehearing, claiming that Fields I misapplied Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), in holding "the jury was required to find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants were responsible for the quantity of drugs attributed to them for purposes of determining their base offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines." Government's Pet. for Reh'g at 1. We agree that there is some loose language in Fields I which can be read to exceed the bounds of the Supreme Court's holding in Apprendi. We therefore grant the Government's petition for rehearing so that we may clarify the court's holdings in Fields I.

* * * *

In Apprendi, the Supreme 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." 530 U.S. at 490. Therefore, as we held in Fields I, it "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." 242 F.3d at 395 (emphasis in original). Apprendi therefore applies to sentences predicated on drug quantity where progressively higher statutory maximums are triggered by findings of progressively higher quantities of drugs. Id. at 396; In re Sealed Case, 246 F.3d 696, 699(D.C. Cir. Apr. 24, 2001). Thus, as noted in Fields I, in drug cases charged under 21 U.S.C. 841 and 846, where the prescribed statutory maximum depends upon the amount of drugs involved, before a defendant can be sentenced to a higher statutory maximum, "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." 242 F.3d at 396.

Fields I goes awry in suggesting that Apprendi also applies to a Sentencing Guidelines enhancement that results in a sentence within the statutory range. For example, Fields I states that "[t]he Government was required to convince the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendants possessed enough of a controlled substance for the District Court to adjust the base offense level to 38," id. at 397, and that "the issue of leadership [role] must be charged in an indictment, submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 398. These passages overstate the holding of Apprendi. As this court recently has held, Apprendi does not apply to sentencing findings that elevate a defendant's sentence within the applicable statutory limits. See In re: Sealed Case, 2001 WL 409116, at *2-*3. In other words, Apprendi does not apply to enhancements under the Sentencing Guidelines when the resulting sentence remains within the statutory maximum. This understanding of Apprendi is shared by our sister circuits. See, e.g., United States v. Caba, 241 F.3d 98, 101 (1st Cir. 2001); United States v. Jackson, 240 F.3d 1245, 1249 (10th Cir. 2001); United States v. Garcia, 240 F.3d 180, 182-84 (2d Cir. 2001); United States v. Williams, 235 F.3d 858, 862-63 (3d Cir. 2000); United States v. Doggett, 230 F.3d 160, 166 (5th Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 121 S. Ct. 1152 (2001); Talbott v. Indiana, 226 F.3d 866, 869-70 (7th Cir. 2000). Any language to the contrary in Fields I is in error and is not the law of this circuit.

With these legal principles in mind, we will now reconsider our application of the law to the facts in Fields I.

* * * *

The Government concedes that, under Apprendi, the District Court committed plain error in this case in imposing life sentences on the drug conspiracy count in the absence of jury findings as to drug quantity. The Government claims, however, that in assessing whether this constituted reversible error under the plain error doctrine,"[t]he right question" is whether there was "overwhelming proof" that defendants' crimes involved 50 or more grams of cocaine base, or 1 kilogram or more of phencyclidine ("PCP") mixture, or at least 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. Government's Pet. at 10. The Government is right as to the amounts of drugs required by statute to authorize a life sentence, but wrong in its claim that the District Court relied on "overwhelming proof" that the conspiracy involved these amounts.

As noted in Fields I, defendants Fields and Johnson were convicted on 40 and 16 counts, respectively, including convictions for Narcotics Conspiracy (Count 1), RICO Conspiracy (Count 3), and kidnaping, gang rape, and attempted murder (Counts 12-18). At defendants' sentencing hearing, the District Court adopted the calculations in the Presentence Investigation Report ("PIR"), as well as the Government's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and found that "well above" a preponderance of the evidence demonstrated 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." United States v. Fields, Crim. No. 98-071-01, Mem. Op. at 16 (D.D.C. Oct. 8, 1999). The District Court also 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." United States v. Johnson, Crim. No. 98-071-06, Mem. Op. at 8 (D.D.C. Oct. 13, 1999). The life sentences imposed on defendants were predicated on these calculations. It is undisputed, however, that these drug quantities were never proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt; indeed, most of the asserted quantities are not based on any concrete proof. While the jury verdict form required specified findings that defendants distributed specific quantities of controlled substance in connection with Count 2 (Continuing Criminal Enterprise), the jury deadlocked on this count in the case of both defendants. In short, the jury did not make any finding at all as to the amount of drugs involved, let alone a finding that defendants possessed, beyond a reasonable doubt, enough of a controlled substance to impose a life sentence under 21 U.S.C. 841. The life sentences therefore contravened Apprendi.

Though the District Court erred in imposing the life sentences based on drug quantity, neither defendant objected at trial to the failure to submit drug quantity to the jury. At sentencing, defendants objected only on the grounds that the calculations were speculative and based on trial testimony of various individuals who had entered into agreements with the Government. Hence, as noted in Fields I, our review is for plain error. Fed. R. Crim. P. 52(b); United States v. Wolff, 195 F.3d 37, 40 (D.C. Cir. 1999). We may exercise our discretion to correct an error pursuant to Rule 52(b) only when an "error" is "plain" or "obvious" under current law, affects substantial rights, and seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 466-67 (1997); United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 731-35 (1993).

The Government argues that, although the life sentences imposed on defendants based on drug quantities resulted in plain error, no relief is warranted because the error did not affect defendants' substantial rights. We disagree. The Government maintains that the District Court correctly determined that the quantity of drugs involved exceeded the amount required under the applicable provision of 841(b)(1). However, the Government has no good basis upon which to rest such a claim. The District Court relied heavily on the imprecise testimony of various witnesses who were cooperating with the Government. In its petition for rehearing, the Government once again points to this testimony as well as admissions from Fields that he "made a living selling crack," sold or supplied marijuana to ten named...

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