US v. Russell Carrington
UNPUBLISHED AUTHORED OPINION filed. Motion disposition in opinion--denying Motion to strike [1000054037-2], denying Motion to strike [1000053301-2], denying Motion to strike [1000046147-2]; denying Motion to file supplemental appendix [1000053790-2]. Originating case number: 1:13-cr-00151-ELH-27. Copies to all parties and the district court. . [15-4244, 15-4349, 15-4400, 15-4482, 15-4605]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
RUSSELL CARRINGTON, a/k/a Rutt,
Defendant - Appellant.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
Defendant - Appellant.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
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JOSEPH YOUNG, a/k/a Monster,
Defendant - Appellant.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
Defendant - Appellant.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore.
J. Frederick Motz, Senior District Judge. (1:13-cr-00151-ELH-27; 1:13-cr-00151-ELH37; 1:13-cr-00151-ELH-25; 1:13-cr-00151-ELH-39; 1:13-cr-00151-ELH-40)
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Argued: March 24, 2017
Decided: July 25, 2017
Before FLOYD and HARRIS, Circuit Judges, and John Preston BAILEY, United States
District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.
Nos. 15-4244, 15-4349, 15-4482 and 15-4605 affirmed; No. 15-4400 affirmed in part,
vacated in part, and remanded by unpublished opinion. Judge Harris wrote the opinion,
in which Judge Floyd and Judge Bailey joined.
ARGUED: Richard Bruce Bardos, SCHULMAN, HERSHFIELD & GILDEN, P.A.,
Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellants. Robert Reeves Harding, Ayn Brigoli Ducao,
OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.
ON BRIEF: Michael D. Montemarano, MICHAEL D. MONTEMARANO, PA,
Columbia, Maryland, for Appellant Paylor. Anthony D. Martin, ANTHONY D.
MARTIN, PC, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellant Carrington. Carmen D. Hernandez,
LAW OFFICES OF CARMEN D. HERNANDEZ, Highland, Maryland, for Appellant
McNair. Jonathan A. Gladstone, Annapolis, Maryland, for Appellant Newton. Rod J.
Rosenstein, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY,
Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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PAMELA HARRIS, Circuit Judge:
For a number of years, the Black Guerilla Family (“BGF”), a prison and street
gang, ran a criminal enterprise inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. With the help
of complicit correctional officers and other Detention Center employees, BGF inmates
were able to smuggle narcotics, cell phones, and other contraband into the facility, and to
use their dominant position to control other inmates and to support gang members on the
outside. Ultimately, a grand jury indicted a group of BGF members and Detention Center
employees on charges including racketeering conspiracy, narcotics distribution, and
money laundering conspiracy. Eight of the charged defendants went to trial, and after a
twenty-day trial and four days of jury deliberation, five defendants – two BGF members
and three Detention Center employees – were convicted.
The five appellants now challenge their convictions, focusing primarily on the
district court’s jury instructions. Two appellants also challenge their sentences. For the
reasons that follow, we affirm all of the appellants’ convictions, but vacate the sentence
of one appellant, Joseph Young, and remand to the district court for resentencing.
From 2007 through 2013, the Baltimore City Detention Center was home to a
sprawling criminal enterprise led by the Black Guerilla Family.
correctional officers, and other jail employees all played central roles in the enterprise.
BGF members bribed correctional officers to smuggle into the facility contraband
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supplied by gang members on the outside, including drugs, tobacco, and cell phones.
Detention Center employees also facilitated attacks on inmates targeted by BGF, and
helped BGF to conceal its gang activities.
And BGF used its position within the
Detention Center to assist gang members outside the jail, financially supporting BGF
with profits from narcotics trafficking and coordinating outside criminal activity. In
exchange for their cooperation in this extensive BGF enterprise, Detention Facility
employees were paid with “Green Dot MoneyPak” cards, prepaid debit cards available at
retail stores. J.A. 213.
The five appellants in this case played various parts in BGF’s operations.
Appellants Joseph Young and Russell Carrington were inmates and members of BGF:
Young, a high-ranking BGF member, sold controlled substances in the jail, and
Carrington recruited correctional officers to smuggle contraband and to set up drug sales.
Appellants Travis Paylor, Ashley Newton, and Michelle McNair all were employees of
BCDC. Paylor and Newton were correctional officers who smuggled contraband into the
facility, while McNair was a contract kitchen worker who delivered contraband to BGF
Count one of the indictment against the appellants – the count most directly at
issue in this appeal – charged the appellants and other defendants with racketeering
conspiracy. Specifically, the indictment alleged a conspiracy to participate in the affairs
of the BGF enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, in violation of the
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d).
Six predicate racketeering offenses were listed as “A-F” in the “Racketeering Violation”
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section of the indictment: conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, distribution
and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, bribery of a public
employee under Maryland law, extortion under Maryland law, money laundering, and
retaliation against a witness. J.A. 175–76. And in an embellishment that would prove
central to this case, the indictment also detailed 161 “Overt Acts,” describing the specific
activities through which BGF operations allegedly had been conducted. J.A. 185.
The appellants and three co-defendants proceeded to trial on November 17, 2014.
Cooperating defendants – members of BGF and correctional officers who previously had
pleaded guilty – testified at trial regarding BGF’s drug-dealing operations and use of
violence to control the jail, and the role played by correctional officers in smuggling
narcotics, cell phones, and other contraband to BGF inmates. Several witnesses testified
directly to McNair’s use of her job as a kitchen worker to deliver contraband to prisoners.
Witnesses also testified to the participation of Carrington and Young as BGF members,
and to the smuggling activities of correctional officers Paylor and Newton.
Because the appellants’ principal challenge to their convictions concerns the
district court’s jury instructions on the RICO conspiracy charge, we describe those
instructions and the events surrounding them in some detail.
As noted above, the
indictment properly listed six “A-F” predicate racketeering offenses, any two of which
would support a RICO conspiracy conviction. It also listed, however, 161 “overt acts,”
and the relationship between those two lists – racketeering offenses and overt acts –
would end up generating significant confusion at trial.
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On January 27, 2015, the district court gave its initial jury instructions on the
RICO conspiracy charge.
The court explained, correctly, that the government was
required to prove a conspiracy that “involved the commission of two racketeering acts,”
and properly identified the alleged “pattern of racketeering activity” as the six criminal
offenses marked as “A-F” in the indictment. J.A. 2047. But the court also instructed the
jury, this time incorrectly, that the “government must prove that at least two of the overt
acts alleged in Count One were or were intended to be committed as part of the
conspiracy.” Id. (emphasis added).
The district court addressed the jury again the next day, reviewing the verdict form
as it pertained to the RICO conspiracy charge. The form, the judge explained, asked first
whether the jury had “unanimously agreed” that certain “racketeering acts named in
Count One were or were intended to be committed as part of the conspiracy.” J.A. 2223.
But instead of stopping there, the court went on to suggest that “racketeering acts” and
“overt acts” were the same thing: “There’s a terminology issue. They’re called overt
acts in the indictment . . . . I prefer to call them racketeering acts . . . . But if you do find
. . . any racketeering acts or overt acts, as they’re called in the indictment, list them on
that line . . . .” Id. The district court finished charging the jury, and the jurors began their
It became apparent almost immediately that the jury was confused.
following morning, and about an hour and a half into deliberations, the jury sent a note
seeking clarification: “For completion of the Jury Verdict Form, please clarify what is
meant by ‘racketeering acts’ found under Count One: Are they A-F found on page 19 of
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the Instructions? [O]r [a]re they the 161 Overt Acts listed in the Indictment?” J.A. 2362.
A bench conference followed, in which the court initially stated its belief that the six
statutory A-F offenses were the relevant “racketeering acts.”
But the government
disagreed, arguing that it was the overt acts that were critical, and suggesting that the jury
be directed to “pick two of the[ ] things listed in A through F, at least two, and also two,
at least two[,] of the 161 overt acts[.]” J.A. 2240. The court adopted the government’s
suggestion. It first instructed the jury that it should “find racketeering acts listed [as AF]. . . . That is it.” J.A. 2248. But “[o]ut of caution,” it added, the jury also should “find
that at least two of the overt acts were committed as well.” Id.
And there things stood until the afternoon of the same day, January 29, 2015,
when the government changed its position, as reflected in a letter sent by the lead
prosecutor to the district court. It would be sufficient, the government now concluded,
for the jury to identify at least two of the predicate racketeering offenses listed as A
through F in the indictment, without the need for findings as to overt acts.
government also urged reinstruction of the jury to make clear – as the defense had argued
– that the “jury should be unanimous as to which types of racketeering activity the
defendant agreed would be committed.” J.A. 2282.
At a hearing the next day, the district court ruled, with the agreement of all parties,
that it would reinstruct the jury using instructions proposed by the defense and consistent
with the government’s revised position. Again with the parties’ agreement, the court also
decided to modify the jury verdict form, making clear that the jury was required to
indicate which particular racketeering activities it unanimously found in connection with
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each defendant. The district court denied motions to dismiss the indictment and for a
mistrial filed by the defendants, based on the original instructions. It did, however, offer
each defendant time to make supplemental closing remarks to address the new jury
instructions and any prior misstatements about overt acts. The defendants declined the
opportunity for additional argument.
Finally, on February 2, 2014, the court reinstructed the jury on the RICO
conspiracy count. There is no dispute as to the correctness of those instructions: The
district court explained that in order to convict a defendant, the jury must agree
unanimously on two or more of the six predicate racketeering offenses listed in the
indictment, and then read those racketeering offenses verbatim from the list at A through
F. This time, there was no mention of overt acts, though the court did clarify that “other
conduct, whether or not criminal or illegal in nature, cannot be racketeering acts as they
are defined under the law.” J.A. 2320. The court also carefully walked the jury through
the revised verdict form, which, as to each defendant, listed the six “A-F” racketeering
offenses and asked the jury to mark with an “x” each type of racketeering activity
“unanimously found to be part of the pattern of racketeering in the conspiracy that the
defendant . . . joined.” J.A. 2322. And finally, the court emphasized that because the
original instructions had been incorrect, the jury was required to disregard both the
instructions themselves and any argument by the parties based on those instructions, and
to discard its prior deliberations and begin anew.
After this final instruction, the jury deliberated for three days before finding the
five appellants guilty on the RICO conspiracy charge, along with other charges.
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Consistent with the jury instructions, as to each defendant, the jury indicated on the
verdict sheet which racketeering acts it unanimously agreed were applicable. For Paylor,
the jurors marked the two narcotics offenses:
conspiracy to distribute a controlled
substance, and distribution and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
For Carrington, the jurors marked the two narcotics offenses and bribery; for Newton and
McNair, the two narcotics offenses and money laundering. Finally, for Young, the jurors
marked five of the six racketeering acts, all but retaliating against a witness.
The appellants raise several arguments on appeal, some jointly and some
individually. We begin with the primary issue in this case: the appellants’ joint claim
that the district court’s initial jury instructions were incorrect, entitling them to a new
trial. We then address the appellants’ individual claims regarding their convictions and,
finally, the challenges brought by two of the appellants to their sentences.
We begin with the appellants’ claim that the district court’s original jury
instructions on the RICO conspiracy claim improperly expanded the definition of
predicate racketeering acts to include the 161 overt acts charged in the indictment. The
result, the appellants argue, was a confused jury and a tainted jury verdict, necessitating a
new trial. We disagree.
Because this issue rests on an understanding of the elements of RICO conspiracy,
we begin with a brief explanation of the statutory framework. RICO makes it unlawful to
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“conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of [a covered] enterprise’s
affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity[.]” 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). A “pattern of
racketeering activity” – the critical element here – is defined as “at least two acts of
racketeering activity” occurring within a ten-year period.
Id. § 1961(5).
“racketeering activity” – often referred to as predicate acts or offenses – is statutorily
defined to include “any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson,
robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled
substance . . . chargeable under state law and punishable by imprisonment for more than
one year.” Id. § 1961(1)(A). The offenses listed at A through F of the indictment in this
case fall within the category of predicate racketeering acts.
The appellants here were convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), which prohibits
conspiracy to commit the substantive RICO offense outlined above. Tracking those
requirements, a conviction for conspiracy under § 1962(d) requires the government to
prove “that each defendant knowingly and willfully agreed that he or some other member
of the conspiracy would commit at least two racketeering acts.”
United States v.
Mouzone, 687 F.3d 207, 218 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). But – and critically for this case – unlike the general conspiracy provision
applicable to federal crimes, 18 U.S.C. § 371, the RICO conspiracy provision does not
require proof of any overt acts committed in furtherance of the conspiracy. Salinas v.
United States, 522 U.S. 52, 63 (1997). To convict for RICO conspiracy under § 1962(d),
it is necessary and also sufficient that the jury unanimously find that a defendant has
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agreed to the commission of at least two predicate racketeering acts; no finding as to
overt acts is required. See United States v. Cornell, 780 F.3d 616, 625 (4th Cir. 2015).
The gist of the appellants’ claim is that the district court’s initial instructions to the
jury improperly conflated predicate “racketeering acts” – those listed at A-F of the
indictment – with the 161 “overt acts” also listed in the indictment. As a result, the
appellants argue, the jury would have believed that it could convict under § 1962(d)
based on a finding of two or more of the listed “overt acts,” most of which fail to qualify
as racketeering activity and many of which are not illegal at all – and without the
necessary finding of at least two predicate A-F racketeering acts.
We may assume for the sake of argument that the court’s original instructions,
provided on January 27 and 28, 2015, could have given rise to the confusion that
concerns the appellants. But the problem for the appellants is everything that happened
next. After deliberating for a short period of time, the jury signaled that it had questions.
And while the court’s response did not resolve fully the role of “overt acts,” it did address
the appellants’ underlying concern, making clear that the jury was required, at a
minimum, to find at least two of the predicate racketeering acts listed at A through F of
the indictment. And finally, there is no dispute that in the end the jury was instructed
entirely correctly, directed to agree unanimously on two or more of six predicate
racketeering acts specified by the court itself, and cautioned that no other illegal conduct
would qualify as the necessary racketeering activity.
For that reason, the appellants are not entitled to relief on the ground that the
district court failed to give proper jury instructions. As the appellants acknowledge in
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their brief, the threshold premise of such a claim is that the district court in fact failed to
instruct the jury correctly. See Consol. Br. of Appellants at 18; United States v. Lewis, 53
F.3d 29, 32 (4th Cir. 1995) (improper jury instructions constitute reversible error only
where, inter alia, a district court has refused to give an instruction requested by the
defense that is correct and that is not substantially covered by the charge actually given
the jury). That may seem like a tautology, but here it is dispositive: There is no question
– and the appellants do not argue otherwise – that the district court ultimately did instruct
the jury properly on the elements of RICO conspiracy and, in particular, on the definition
of “racketeering activity” at the heart of this appeal.
The appellants insist, however, that the initial instructions offered by the court in
this case were so prejudicial that they tainted the resulting verdict and rendered their trial
fundamentally unfair. We cannot agree. First, it should be noted that most of the
confusion reflected by the evolving jury instructions was not, as the appellants would
have it, over whether a finding of two or more racketeering acts was necessary to a RICO
conspiracy conviction; it was over whether such a finding was sufficient, or, alternatively,
whether the jury also must find two or more overt acts. From the start, that is, the court
instructed the jury, consistent with the appellants’ position, on the need to find an
agreement to commit at least two of the racketeering acts listed at A-F in the indictment.
The controversy was over a different point, with the government initially persuading the
court of the need for an additional finding as to at least two of the 161 overt acts listed in
the indictment. And while the government and the court later corrected themselves, the
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primary effect of that initial error was to heighten, not to reduce, the burden of proof
imposed on the government.
In any event, the court in fact did correct itself. And in addition to providing
proper instructions on the RICO conspiracy count, the court carefully advised the jury to
give no effect to its prior instructions, nor to any argument by the parties based on its
It also made clear that the jury would have to “discard” its prior
deliberations and start again, basing new deliberations on the corrected instructions given
on February 2, 2015.
We may presume that the jury followed those
instructions, see United States v. Moye, 454 F.3d 390, 399 (4th Cir. 2006), and that any
confusion generated by the court’s earlier instructions had no effect on the jury’s
Indeed, we know that to be the case here because the jury showed its work. The
revised verdict form returned by the jury makes clear beyond dispute that as to each
convicted defendant, the jury found (and marked with an “x”) at least two of the
qualifying predicate racketeering offenses originally listed at A through F of the
indictment. There is nothing to suggest that the jury was confused, or ticked through this
task by rote. A different combination of racketeering activities was marked for each of
the five convicted defendants, reflecting the particular evidence introduced against each
at trial; and a form reflecting that there had been no agreement to engage in any of the
listed racketeering activities was returned for the three defendants who were acquitted.
As the appellants themselves conceded at oral argument, “there is no question” that the
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jury ultimately found that each convicted defendant had committed qualifying
Nor is there anything that raises concerns about the fundamental fairness of the
proceedings. When the district court decided to reinstruct the jury, it gave each of the
appellants the opportunity to present supplemental closing arguments addressing this
issue. Had the appellants harbored misgivings about the final instructions or their effect
on the jury, they could have used this opportunity to address them, rather than declining
the district court’s offer. And we note that the jury had deliberated only for a short time
before this issue surfaced, and then, after the final and corrected instructions were given,
deliberated for a full three days before returning a verdict. There is no inference from the
timing, in other words, that the jury’s conclusion was based on its truncated deliberations
before the reinstruction, rather than its extended deliberations after.
In sum, in light of the final and correct instructions given by the district court,
together with the revised verdict forms and the court’s other curative efforts, we conclude
that the appellants are not entitled to a new trial as a result of the court’s initial
To the extent the appellants attempt to bootstrap onto a standard jury instruction
argument a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, we reject that effort. Though the
government, as it concedes, was mistaken in its initial view that the jury was required to
find overt acts as well as predicate racketeering activity – an error, again, that did nothing
to assist the government – it corrected that error on its own initiative through its letter to
the district court, and consented to all of the district court’s efforts to rectify the error.
The appellants’ suggestion of deliberate prosecutorial misconduct is without merit.
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We next address Travis Paylor’s claim that the district court erred in denying his
suppression motion and admitting certain text messages from his cell phone at trial. The
FBI agents who searched Paylor’s phone for messages did so pursuant to a search
warrant. But because that warrant expired before the messages were recovered, Paylor
argues, the search was effectively warrantless and therefore violated the Fourth
Amendment. For the reasons given below, we hold that Paylor is not entitled to relief on
On April 4, 2014, the FBI obtained a warrant authorizing the search of over 80
electronic devices that had been lawfully seized during its BCDC investigation, including
two iPhones recovered from Paylor’s residence. The warrant expired fourteen days later,
on April 18, 2014. It was not until October 2014, however, that the FBI completed its
forensic analysis, in part because one of Paylor’s phones – the one from which the
relevant texts were obtained – was damaged and had to be sent to a special FBI unit for
examination. Ultimately, the FBI recovered a series of text messages referring to drug
smuggling activity and using the distinct terminology of the BGF gang and its BCDC
enterprise. A 33-page print out of selected text messages was admitted at trial.
As the Supreme Court has held and neither party disputes, the government
generally may not search a cell phone without a valid search warrant. See Riley v.
California, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 2485 (2014). Paylor argues that the government violated this
principle when it searched his cell phone because, although the FBI had obtained a
warrant, that warrant had expired, rendering it effectively void. And there is some
support for this approach in our decision in Yanez-Marquez v. Lynch, 789 F.3d 434 (4th
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Cir. 2015), treating a search of a home at night pursuant to a search warrant that
unconstitutional. Id. at 466–68. But see id. at 467 n. 20 (noting and distinguishing cases
in which search warrants are executed after expiration dates).
The problem with Paylor’s argument, however, is its premise: that his phone was
not “searched” for Fourth Amendment purposes until the FBI completed its forensic
analysis of the phone in October of 2014. Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure, governing search and seizure, includes a specific provision for warrants
seeking electronically stored information, like the search warrant in this case. Fed. R.
Crim. P. 41(e)(2)(B). Such warrants, Rule 41(e)(2)(B) makes clear, are deemed executed
when the electronically stored information is seized and brought within the government’s
control, rather than when the information is analyzed by the government. Id. (“The time
for executing the warrant . . . refers to the seizure or on-site copying of the media or
information, and not to any later off-site copying or review.”). In other words, an initial
seizure of Paylor’s phone after the 14-day expiration period would have contravened the
terms of the warrant – but that is not what happened here, where the phone already was in
government custody pursuant to a lawful seizure. And the fact that the government did
not “review” the texts on the phone until after the warrant’s expiration date is consistent
with the warrant itself. See id. (“Unless otherwise specified, the warrant authorizes a
later review of the media or information consistent with the warrant.”); United States v.
Huart, 735 F.3d 972, 974 n.2 (7th Cir. 2013) (“[U]nder [Rule] 41(e)(2)(B), a warrant for
electronically stored information is executed when the information is seized or copied –
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here, when the [government] seized the phone. Law enforcement is permitted to decode
or otherwise analyze data on a seized device at a later time.”).
In any event, we agree with the government that even if the district court had erred
in denying Paylor’s suppression motion, any such error would have been harmless. See
United States v. Abu Ali, 528 F.3d 210, 256 (4th Cir. 2008) (constitutional error does not
require reversal where error is “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” (quoting Delaware
v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 681 (1986))). The trial evidence against Paylor was
Several witnesses testified that Paylor worked with other
correctional officers to smuggle narcotics into BCDC and distributed narcotics to
inmates. And the search of Paylor’s home turned up not only the cell phones at issue, but
also a written record of an inmate payment to Paylor; drug paraphernalia; and the
MoneyPaks with which BGF compensated cooperating correctional officers, as well as
Accordingly, we conclude that Paylor cannot prevail on his Fourth Amendment
And while Paylor also objects to certain evidentiary rulings related to the
admission of his text messages, we have reviewed the record and find no error in those
rulings. We thus have no ground to disturb Paylor’s conviction. 2
Two other appellants also bring various challenges to their convictions.
Carrington argues that he is entitled to a mistrial for three reasons: The district court
improperly allowed the jury to hear evidence of a prior arrest (though the court
subsequently ordered the testimony stricken and gave a curative instruction); there was
insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that he engaged in the predicate
racketeering offense of bribery under Maryland law (though the jury also found two other
predicate racketeering offenses, sufficient to sustain a RICO conspiracy conviction); and
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Paylor also challenges his sentence, as does Joseph Young. Both argue that the
district court failed to resolve disputed factual matters related to their sentences. As to
Paylor, we disagree. But as to Young, we agree that the district court did not make
adequate factual findings, and therefore remand for resentencing.
We begin with Paylor. Paylor’s Presentence Report (“PSR”) was filed in March
of 2015. Adopting the government’s position as to the quantity of drugs attributable to
Paylor, the PSR set the initial offense level at 24. The PSR also applied a pair of twolevel upward adjustments, one for distribution of a controlled substance in a correctional
facility and one for abuse of a position of trust. Based on those findings, Paylor’s total
offense level was 28 and his Guidelines range was 78 to 97 months’ imprisonment.
Paylor filed a sentencing memorandum, opposed by the government, disputing both the
quantity of drugs attributed to him for purposes of setting his offense level and the twolevel enhancement for abuse of trust.
The district court adopted “the factual findings and advisory guideline application
in the [PSR] without change.” J.A. 2771. Based on those Guidelines calculations and an
analysis of the factors set out in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the district court sentenced Paylor
to 76 months in prison, two months below the Guidelines range. As noted above, Paylor
the district court erred in admitting certain co-conspirator testimony. McNair takes issue
with statements made by the prosecutor in closing argument, alleging that they were
factually or legally inaccurate. We have reviewed the relevant record and considered
each of these arguments, and find the claims to be without merit.
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claims that in imposing this sentence, the district court impermissibly failed to resolve the
factual disputes he had raised.
The general principles that govern this issue are not contested. When a defendant
raises factual disputes bearing on matters that affect sentencing, a district court is
obligated to resolve those disputes. Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(i)(3)(B); see United States v.
Flores-Alvarado, 779 F.3d 250, 256 (4th Cir. 2015) (applying Rule 32(i)(3)(B) to dispute
over attribution of drug quantities). It is the sentencing court’s “findings on controverted
matters” that “ensure a record as to how the district court ruled on any alleged inaccuracy
in the PSR” and allow for “effective appellate review of the sentence imposed.” United
States v. Bolden, 325 F.3d 471, 497 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation
But, critically, a district court’s adoption of the PSR “can be a satisfactory means
of resolving factual disputes” as required by Rule 32(i)(3)(B). Flores-Alvarado, 779 F.3d
at 256. That will not be the case where the PSR itself falls short of supporting a
recommended offense level or enhancement – where, for instance, a PSR’s factual
recitations are insufficient to justify its determination on a contested question. Id.; see
also Bolden, 325 F.3d at 498. Paylor does not argue, however, that his PSR, which made
specific recommendations as to drug quantity and application of the abuse of trust
enhancement, did not include the findings necessary to support those recommendations,
and our review likewise shows no such failure. We therefore agree with the government
that by adopting the factual findings of the PSR, the district court satisfied its obligation
to resolve the factual disputes raised by Paylor.
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Young’s PSR, however, is different in one crucial respect. Filed in May of 2015
along with an addendum containing Young’s objections, the PSR set an initial offense
level of 26, based on the quantity of drugs attributed to Young. The total offense level
was calculated at 32, in part because of a four-level upward adjustment for role in the
offense, deeming Young an “organizer or leader” of criminal activity. J.A. 2659. But
unlike Paylor’s PSR, Young’s PSR recognizes that Young had raised factual disputes
regarding both “the drug amount attributed to the defendant and the defendant’s role
within the conspiracy,” and expressly declines to resolve those disputes, instead
“defer[ring] to the Court for resolution[.]” J.A. 2660.
As with Paylor, however, the district court simply adopted the findings of the PSR,
except that it imposed a two-level increase for role rather than the recommended fourlevel increase. With a Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months’ imprisonment, the district
court imposed a sentence of 180 months.
We must agree with Young that the district court failed to resolve the factual
disputes he raised regarding his Guidelines calculation. At no point during the sentencing
hearing did the court address Young’s factual objections to the drug quantity or offense
role on which his Guidelines range was based. Nor did the court indicate that resolution
was unnecessary because neither issue would affect its sentencing decision. See Fed. R.
Crim. P. 32(i)(3)(B) (allowing court, instead of ruling on dispute, to make determination
that ruling is unnecessary because disputed matter will not affect sentencing). Instead,
the district court purported to adopt the findings of the PSR on these matters. But the
PSR, of course, did not make any findings regarding drug attribution or offense role for
Pg: 22 of 22
the district court to adopt, expressly deferring to the district court for a resolution. Under
such circumstances, a district court plainly cannot satisfy its Rule 32(i)(3)(B) obligations
simply by reference back to the PSR. And indeed, the government conceded as much at
oral argument, agreeing that Young’s sentence must be vacated and his case remanded
We do just that, vacating Young’s sentence and remanding for
resolution of the factual disputes raised by Young and for resentencing. 3
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the district court as to all of
the appellants’ convictions and as to the sentence of Travis Paylor. With respect to the
sentence of Joseph Young, we vacate the sentence and remand to the district court for
Nos. 15-4244, 15-4349, 15-4482, 15-4605 AFFIRMED;
No. 15-4400 AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED IN PART, AND REMANDED
On appeal, Young separately challenges application of a two-level specific
offense characteristic for money laundering under § 2S1.1(b)(2)(B) of the Sentencing
Guidelines, and a two-level enhancement for bribery under § 2D1.1(b)(11). We do not
address those issues here. The district court’s resolution of the factual disputes raised by
Young may bear on application of those provisions, and it would be premature to assume
that the district court will reach the same judgment with respect to these issues on
The government has moved to strike several Rule 28(j) letters filed by the
appellants. We have not relied on those letters in reaching our decision today, and the
government’s motions are denied as moot. We also deny the appellants’ motion for leave
to file a third supplemental joint appendix. Supplementary appendices are accepted only
“under the most extraordinary circumstances,” Local Rule 30(c), and the appellants have
identified no such circumstances here.
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