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United States v. Jones

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 14, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Johnny Jones, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued February 16, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 3:16-cr-00080-JD-MGG-3 - Jon E. DeGuilio, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Kanne and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          Rovner, Circuit Judge.

         After a jury convicted Johnny Jones of possessing and conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, the district court sentenced him to a term of imprisonment of 145 months. In calculating Jones' sentence, the district court considered Jones' possession of a gun carried in the purse of his co-conspirator and also several quantities of methamphetamine for which Jones claimed he was not responsible. We have reviewed these findings by the district court for clear error and finding none, we affirm.


         In February or March 2016, Jones and his girlfriend, Jennai Rowland, moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan, staying in various hotels and, on occasion, with Jones' cousin, Stephanie Smith.[1] Jones and Rowland used Smith's address as their own. Hard times had befallen Smith and she joined with Jones and Rowland to sell drugs, particularly methamphetamine. Smith's role was to find buyers and connect them to Jones and Rowland. Jones and Rowland controlled the business. They set the prices, authorized transactions, and provided instructions for meeting-communicating with Smith by way of text messages or in person. When Smith found a buyer, she would contact Jones or Rowland, and then obtain the methamphetamine from Rowland. Sometimes Jones would be present at these transactions and give the go-ahead for the sale; sometimes Rowland would arrive alone. After selling the methamphetamine, Smith would give the buyers' money to Rowland or Jones. When Smith needed to earn more money, she would send a text message to Jones' phone asking that he send more customers her way.

         From May 2 through August 8, 2016, an undercover police officer purchased approximately 60 grams of methamphetamine from Smith over the course of six controlled buys. (A single "dose" of methamphetamine is usually about a half of a gram). For each transaction, Smith would contact Rowland and Jones and obtain the drugs from them.

         The conspiracy unraveled on August 30, 2016, after a final controlled buy. On that day, Smith agreed to sell the undercover officer eight ounces (226.8 gm) of methamphetamine at a Walmart parking lot in Niles, Michigan, a few miles north of the Indiana boarder. She arrived with only two ounces (56.7 gm) of methamphetamine, but offered to travel to South Bend for the remaining six ounces.

         Smith left the two ounces of methamphetamine with the undercover officer in exchange for $2, 000 cash (the serial numbers of which had been pre-recorded by the police). She then drove to South Bend where she met Jones, Rowland, and Jones' mother at a hotel. After Smith explained to Jones and Rowland that she needed more methamphetamine, Jones told Rowland to "[g]et her what she need." R. 185 at 104. The four then walked out of the hotel to a silver Mustang. As they walked out, Jones' mother pointed out that Rowland had a gun hanging out of her purse. Jones was irritated that the gun was not properly concealed and pushed it back down into Rowland's purse.

         With Jones present, Rowland gave Smith two more ounces of methamphetamine.[2] Smith gave $1, 500 of the undercover officer's money to Jones and he allowed her to keep the remaining $500. Smith then returned to the Walmart parking lot where law enforcement officers arrested her.

         Meanwhile, investigators followed the silver Mustang to a mall parking lot where it approached a blue Buick, stopping driver's side to driver's side. Investigators followed the car but could not hear the conversation or see anything inside the Mustang, but they could see that someone tossed two baggies containing a golf-ball-sized white substance from the Mustang's driver's side window to the Buick, and someone from the Buick got out of the car and handed a bundle of cash into the Mustang's driver's side window. Immediately after the transaction, investigators stopped the Mustang and arrested Jones, who was driving, and Rowland, the front seat passenger. Jones had $1, 500 in pre-recorded money from the undercover agent in his pocket and an additional $2, 400 in cash. In a purse that Rowland had on her lap at the time of the stop, investigators found "one fairly small package" of methamphetamine and a loaded .380 caliber pistol. R. 185 at 136, 155- 56. Investigators did not find any of Jones' fingerprints on the gun, but did find them on the magazine inside the weapon. They also found a plastic grocery bag in the back seat which contained 53.8 grams of marijuana, two packages of methamphetamine, empty baggies, and a digital scale. They also found another digital scale and two cell phones in the car's center console area. A law enforcement officer testified that the two packages of methamphetamine in the back seat were "substantially larger" than the package in Rowland's purse. R. 185 at 135-37. In all, law enforcement officers recovered three baggies of methamphetamine from the car-one from Rowland's purse and two from the back seat. The three bags contained the following amounts of methamphetamine: 1.6 grams, 15.9 grams and 29.6 grams. Unfortunately the bags were not marked with the location in which they were found and one was not properly sealed. Nevertheless, given the testimony that the substantially smaller of the bags came from Rowland's purse, there is sufficient evidence for us to conclude (as did the trial court) that the 1.6 gram bag came from Rowland's purse and the 15.9 and 29.6 gram bags came from the rear seat.

         One of the cell phones found in the search of the Mustang was linked to the phone number that Smith used to communicate with Jones. This phone was also the phone used in text message exchanges with Rowland's phone, including a message sent on July 26, 2016, from Rowland's phone, which said "Meet the newest member of our family. …" along with a picture of the .380 caliber pistol posed with a bundle of cash. R. 186 at 32.

         A grand jury charged Smith, Rowland, and Jones with multiple drug related crimes. Jones' indictment charged him with conspiring to distribute over 50 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). R. 80. Rowland pled guilty to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug ...

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