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United States v. Minnick

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 5, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
OLDEN MINNICK, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On August 16, 2016, Defendant Olden Minnick was convicted after a jury trial of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute One Kilogram or More of Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count One); Use of a Communications Device to Facilitate Narcotics Trafficking, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) (Counts Two, Three, and Six); Possession with Intent to Distribute 100 Grams or More of Heroin and Marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Counts Four and Seven); and Maintaining Drug-Involved Premises, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1) (Counts Eight and Nine). On September 16, 2016, Minnick filed a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and a New Trial, ECF No. 310, seeking judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence to support convictions on Counts Three and Four and a new trial based on alleged errors relating to expert testimony regarding drug language, the admission of evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) of a conversation relating to cocaine distribution, and the failure to disclose portions of interview reports relating to a trial witness. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is DENIED.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

         Minnick seeks judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) on Counts Three and Four of the Superseding Indictment. Count Three charged Minnick with Use of a Communications Device to Facilitate Narcotics Trafficking on June 11, 2014, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b); Count Four charged him with Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin on June 11, 2014, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). These counts relate to the sale of 100 grams of heroin by co-conspirator Christian Byrd to a confidential source C'CS") near a Shoe City store in Laurel, Maryland.

         A. Legal Standards

         In reviewing a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal under Rule 29, the Court determines whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, there was substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict. United States v. Osborne, 514 F.3d 377, 385 (4th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is "evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. To sustain the verdict, the Court must conclude that "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Madrigal-Valadez, 561 F.3d 370, 374 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 399 (1979)). In doing so, the Court must consider both circumstantial and direct evidence. United States v. Tresvant, 677 F.2d 1018, 1021 (4th Cir. 1982). The Court does not weigh the credibility of witnesses, but instead must assume that the jury has resolved all contradictions in the Government's favor, United States v. United Med. & Surgical Supply Corp., 989 F.2d 1390, 1402 (4th Cir. 1993), and give the Government "the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the facts proven to those sought to be established, " Tresvant, 677 F.2d at 1021.

         In order to sustain a conviction of Minnick on Count Three, the evidence must establish that: (1) the defendant used a communications facility such as a telephone; (2) he used the communications device to facilitate the commission of a drug felony; and (3) he did so knowingly and intentionally. See 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) (2012); United States v. Johnstone, 856 F.2d 539, 542 (3d Cir. 1988); see also United States v. Smith, 429 F.App'x 237, 239 (4th Cir. 2011).

         In order to support a conviction on Count Four, the evidence had to establish that Minnick (1) possessed heroin; (2) did so knowingly; and (3) did so with the intent to distribute. See United States v. Penniegraf,, 641 F.3d 566, 572 (4th Cir. 2011).

         B. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         There is no dispute that Byrd and the CS spoke about a heroin transaction on June 9, 2014, that Byrd and Minnick spoke by telephone on June 10, 2014 and then again on June 11, 2014 at 11:58 a.m., that Byrd drove to Minnick's residence on Hillantrae Drive in Clinton, Maryland on June 11 and arrived at approximately 2:30 p.m., and that Byrd sold 100 grams of heroin to the CS at approximately 5:00 p.m. that day. The Government conducted surveillance that tracked Byrd to Minnick's residence and also saw him meet with the CS to complete the sale. Under the Government's theory, the June 11 telephone call was for the purpose of arranging for Byrd to pick up heroin from Minnick's home, and Byrd's trip to Minnick's residence was for the purpose of picking up the heroin that was sold to the CS later that day. If true, these facts would establish the elements of Count Three in that Minnick would have intentionally used a telephone to facilitate a narcotics transaction, as well as the elements of Count Four in that he would have knowingly possessed heroin with intent to distribute immediately before supplying the drugs to Byrd.

         Minnick's claim is that there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to reach these conclusions because there was no recording or other direct evidence of the content of the telephone call, the surveillance at Minnick's residence did not include direct observations that Byrd actually met with Minnick or left with a package of drugs, and there was no direct evidence that the drugs sold to the CS had come from Minnick. In particular, Minnick notes that at the time of the call, the CS had not informed Byrd of the quantity of heroin to be purchased or the specific time of the sale.

         Although there was no direct evidence that Byrd and Minnick discussed a drug transaction by telephone on June 11, or that Minnick distributed heroin that day, the Court finds that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient for the jury to convict Minnick on Counts Three and Four. First, there was evidence to support the inference that Minnick was engaged in heroin distribution and that he had heroin at his residence on June 11, 2014. The recorded conversations between Fred Brooks and Sean Wilson revealed that Brooks was shipping heroin to Wilson for distribution in Maryland. Based on a recording in which Wilson told Brooks that his main distributor had needed surgery for blood clots and had had his home burglarized, and separate recordings in the same time frame in which Minnick told Wilson that he needed surgery for blood clots and had had his home burglarized, it was reasonable to infer that Minnick was Wilson's main heroin distributor. According to the expert testimony of Officer Brian Shutt of the Baltimore City Police Department, a recorded conversation between Wilson and Minnick on June 5, 2014 indicated that they were discussing Minnick's need for more heroin to sell and that Wilson would have to come to Minnick. That same day, surveillance tracked Wilson's vehicle to one of his drug stash houses, then to Minnick's residence, where Prince George's County Police Detective Terrell Brooks observed Minnick meet the driver in the garage at approximately 4:00 p.m. and talk for 10 to 15 minutes. The two men then disappeared from view, but Wilson's vehicle remained at Minnick's residence until at least 5:50 p.m. The jury could reasonably infer that this visit related to heroin distribution.

         Second, there was evidence to support the conclusion that Minnick used Byrd as a distributor of heroin. The sale to the CS establishes that Byrd was engaged in the sale of heroin in June 2014. According to telephone records, between March 2, 2014 and July 31, 2014, Minnick and Byrd engaged in 518 telephone contacts, which averages out to over 100 per month or over three per day. Later recorded conversations indicate that the relationship leading to such an extraordinary volume of calls related to drug distribution. On August 20, 2014, Minnick spoke to another associate, Irvin Kenny, who told Minnick that he had "utility bills" to take to Minnick or "Lucy, " Minnick's wife. Tr. Ex. TTD-145a. According to the expert testimony of Investigator Thomas Eveler, "utility bills" is slang for drug payments. The same evening, at 7:21 p.m, Kenny spoke to Byrd and said that his "client" had called about "the utility bills, " and that he was checking on Byrd before he took them over. Tr. Ex. TTF-1412a. Byrd indicated that he was getting ready to "ride down" as well. Id. Then at approximately 8:32 p.m., Minnick and Kenny spoke again by telephone and indicated that they were trying to meet up somewhere near a ...


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