US v. Bryan Morrison
UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff Appellee, v. BRYAN KENDALL MORRISON, a/k/a Drake, Defendant Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Abingdon. James P. Jones, Chief District Judge. (1:08-cr-00024-jpj-pms-15)
December 29, 2009
February 5, 2010
Before MOTZ, DUNCAN, and AGEE, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Charles Y. Sipe, GOODMAN, WEST & FILETTI, PLLC, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant. Julia C. Dudley, United States Attorney, Jennifer R. Bockhorst, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon, Virginia, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
PER CURIAM: Bryan Kendall Morrison was found guilty by a jury of one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the
intent to distribute fifty grams or more of cocaine base and five hundred grams or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (2006) and 21 U.S.C. § 846 (2006). the Government filed a Sentencing Prior to trial, Information,
charging that Morrison had four prior convictions for felony drug offenses that had become final prior to the offense charged in the indictment, and notifying Morrison that upon conviction for the offense in the indictment he would be sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment. At sentencing, the
district court denied Morrison's objection to his presentence report ("PSR"), and sentenced him to life imprisonment pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) (2006). On appeal, Morrison
contends that: (1) the district court erred in sentencing him to life in prison; (2) the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction; evidence of and his (3) the district felony drug court erred in admitting to
Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). we affirm.
For the reasons that follow,
Morrison first asserts that he should not have been sentenced to life in prison. Morrison argues that "to count as
a prior conviction [under § 841(b)], a career offender felony 2
predicate must also score criminal history points under [U.S. Sentencing court's Guidelines in Manual] United § 4A1.2," States v. and Mason, cites 284 to F.3d this 555
(4th Cir. 2002), for support.
Under this analysis, Morrison
claims that the first conviction relied upon by the Government cannot count as a predicate conviction because he was a minor at the time of conviction, count and as that one his second and third
convictions Because the
prior conviction could not be counted for the purposes of the statutory mandatory minimum under § 841, Morrison's argument, if accepted, would leave only one conviction to count as a
predicate offense. Under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), "[i]f any person
commits a violation of this subparagraph . . . after two or more prior convictions for a felony drug offense have become final, such person shall be sentenced to a mandatory term of life
imprisonment without release and fined in accordance with the preceding interpreted sentence." the term Whether "felony a district offense" in court properly
"involves a pure question of law," which this court reviews de novo. United States v. Burgess, 478 F.3d 658, 661 (4th Cir.
2007), aff'd, 553 U.S. 124 (2008).
offense," but 21 U.S.C. § 802(44) (2006) does, "in plain and unambiguous terms." Burgess, 478 F.3d at 662. Section 802(44)
defines a felony drug offense as "an offense that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year under any law of the United States or of a State or foreign country that prohibits or restricts anabolic conduct steroids, relating or to narcotic or drugs, marihuana, substances."
21 U.S.C. § 802(44).
As we have previously held, "because the
term `felony drug offense' is specifically defined in § 802(44), and § 841(b)(1)(A) makes use of that precise term, the logical, commonsense way to interpret `felony drug offense' in
§ 841(b)(1)(A) is by reference to the definition in § 802(44)." Burgess, 478 F.3d at 662 (internal quotation marks and
alternations omitted). Despite Morrison's assertions, this court's holding in Mason and the requirements of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual for designation as a career offender pursuant to § 4B1.1 are inapposite to his sentence. clear at the under sentencing the Rather, the district court made that minimum Morrison sentence was being
contained within § 841(b) for defendants with two or more prior felony drug convictions.
The district court relied on three convictions in the Superior Court of Alamance County, North Carolina in sentencing Morrison: (1) an April 26, 2000 conviction for possession with the intent to sell or deliver marijuana, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. of § 90-95(a) N.C. (2007), Stat. manufacturing marijuana, and in
possession of cocaine, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 9095(d)(2) (2007); (2) a May 30, 2003 conviction for conspiracy to sell cocaine, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-98 (2007), with an offense date of for September conspiracy 6, to 2002; sell and (3) a in
May 30, 2003
violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-98, with an offense date of September 24, 2002. Morrison did not dispute these convictions.
All three of Morrison's convictions qualify as prior felony drug offenses under § 802(44). First, although two of
the convictions occurred on the same day, because they resulted from two separate "episodes of criminality," they constitute two separate convictions for the purpose of sentencing under
§ 841(b)(1)(a). Cir. 1996).
United States v. Ford, 88 F.3d 1350, 1366 (4th
Second, all three convictions were under the laws
of North Carolina that prohibit "conduct relating to narcotic drugs, marihuana, anabolic steroids, or depressant or stimulant substances." 21 U.S.C. § 802(44). Finally, although Morrison
himself was not sentenced to a term of imprisonment for more 5
convictions one year.
§ 15A-1340.17(c), (d) (2007); United States v. Harp, 406 F.3d 242, 246 (4th Cir. 2005) (explaining that, for the purpose of determining "whether a conviction is for a crime punishable by a prison term exceeding one year," a court must consider "the
maximum aggravated sentence that could be imposed for that crime upon a defendant with the worst possible criminal history"). As
a result, Morrison had a sufficient number of prior felony drug offenses to qualify him for the statutorily prescribed mandatory minimum, and the district court did not err in sentencing
Morrison to life imprisonment. Morrison insufficient to also sustain argues his that the of evidence conspiracy was to
distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base and cocaine. In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the
evidence, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, and ask whether "`any rational trier of facts could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable
United States v. Harvey, 532 F.3d 326, 333 (4th Cir.
2008) (quoting United States v. Tresvant, 677 F.2d 1018, 1021 (4th Cir. 1982)). This court considers the both direct and all Id.
reasonable inferences that could be drawn in its favor." 6
Conflicts in testimony are weighed by the jury, and this court will not weigh the evidence or judge the credibility of the witnesses. Id. To prove conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, the Government must have established "beyond a reasonable doubt that: `(1) an
agreement' to distribute and `possess cocaine with intent to distribute defendant existed knew of between the two or more and persons; (3) the (2) the
knowingly and voluntarily became a part of this conspiracy.'" United States v. Yearwood, 518 F.3d 220, 225-26 (4th Cir.)
(quoting United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 857 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc)), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 137 (2008).
Nonetheless, because a conspiracy is, "by its very nature . . . clandestine and covert," proving its existence is often done through circumstantial evidence "and the context in which the circumstantial evidence is adduced." Burgos, 94 F.3d at 857.
Accordingly, the Government "need not prove that the defendant knew the particulars of the conspiracy or all of his
coconspirators" or that his connection to the conspiracy was anything more than "slight." Id. to at 858, 861. a The
"[c]ircumstantial conviction need
conclusion of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Id. at 858.
With these standards in mind, the evidence presented at trial established that during the time in question, Morrison and numerous other individuals were involved in selling cocaine in Bristol, that Virginia. he, Kerry Derrick Lee, and Evans, Oedipus a co-conspirator, came to
Bristol in 2006 and began selling cocaine there, explaining that Lee and Mumphrey would make trips to various locations to obtain large quantities of cocaine, and then return to Bristol where they provided Evans with cocaine to sell and sold cocaine on their own. Mumphrey confirmed Evans's account of the activities
of the three men, stating that the purpose of coming to Bristol was to sell cocaine. Mumphrey testified that Morrison and five
other individuals came with him in 2006 to Bristol to help sell the cocaine faster. He detailed the structure of the
conspiracy, explaining that the cocaine was purchased, cooked up in hotel rooms by those assisting him, and then distributed to two individuals who were responsible for distributing the drugs to the sellers, including Morrison. Mumphrey unequivocally
stated that Morrison "sold a couple of ounces" for him, and that after he did not properly return money from the drug sales, Morrison dealt with Mumphrey directly for the purposes of the sales. 8
co-conspirators, and Emmanuel
Morrison came to Bristol to sell cocaine with other members of the conspiracy and was present in the hotel rooms where the conspirators gathered to sell and obtain the drugs. Morton
testified that he witnessed Mumphrey give cocaine to Morrison. Construing Government, the testimony in the the light most favorable all to the
inferences that could be drawn in its favor, the evidence showed that Morrison was involved in an agreement between two or more persons to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, that he was aware of the conspiracy, and that he knowingly and
voluntarily became a part of it.
Accordingly, the evidence was
sufficient to support the jury's verdict. Lastly, Morrison argues that the district court erred when it permitted the jury to hear evidence of his prior felony drug convictions, asserting Rule that 404(b) this of evidence the was unfairly Rules of
Evidence, "[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible" if that evidence is used to prove the character of the defendant "in order to show action in conformity therewith." However, such evidence is admissible for other purposes, "such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, Fed.
knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident." 9
inclusion," the list provided in Rule 404(b) is not exhaustive. United States v. Queen, 132 F.3d 991, 994-95 (4th Cir. 1997). Evidence under Rule 404(b) is admissible if four conditions are satisfied: First, "the evidence must be relevant to an issue, such as an element of an offense, and must not be offered to establish the general character of the defendant. In this regard, the more similar the prior act is (in terms of physical similarity or mental state) to the act being proved, the more relevant it becomes." Second, "the act must be necessary in the sense that it is probative of an essential claim or an element of the offense." Third, "the evidence must be reliable." Finally, "the evidence's probative value must not be substantially outweighed by confusion or unfair prejudice in the sense that it tends to subordinate reason to emotion in the factfinding process." United States Queen, v. Gray, F.3d 405 at F.3d 997) 227, 239 (4th and Cir. 2005)
Whether a district court properly admitted evidence
under Rule 404(b) is an evidentiary ruling that is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Id. at 238. First, the establishing
All four conditions are satisfied here. evidence was not admitted for the purpose of
Morrison was charged with conspiracy to
distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. The prior convictions that the Government sought to introduce were delivering and sale of cocaine, possession with intent to
sell and deliver cocaine, maintaining a vehicle or dwelling or place to sell cocaine, and possession of drug paraphernalia, which the Government argued demonstrated Morrison's knowledge, intent, and absence of mistake with regard to the conspiracy charge. To prove the conspiracy charge against Morrison, the was required to show that Morrison knew of the
conspiracy and knowingly and voluntarily became a part of it. Morrison's offenses, necessary prior including to convictions possession that for and he numerous sale, had were cocaine-related relevant of and these
activities, he had the intent to engage in the same activities during the life of the conspiracy, and his engagement in these activities was not accidental or mistaken. The evidence was
reliable, having been introduced during the testimony of Special Agent Todd Brewer, who obtained a certified copy of Morrison's convictions. Finally, the probative value of the evidence was
not substantially outweighed by confusion or unfair prejudice. Although this information was damaging to Morrison, it was not unfairly prejudicial, nor did it "subordinate reason to emotion in the factfinding details that process." were have Gray, provided inflamed 405 F.3d at 239. No
regarding the jury's
Despite Morrison's claims that there was a paucity of physical evidence against him, the testimony of his co-conspirators was 11
conspiracy, such that the prior conviction evidence cannot be said to be responsible for his conviction. Thus, the district
court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence regarding Morrison's prior convictions under Rule 404(b). Accordingly, we affirm the district court's judgment. We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal
contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the court and argument would not aid the decisional process.
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