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United States v. Hill

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 29, 2016

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Leonard Dwayne Hill Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: June 16, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul

          Before MURPHY, BRIGHT, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          BRIGHT, Circuit Judge

         A jury convicted appellant-defendant Leonard Hill of being a felon in possession of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(e). On appeal, Hill challenges his conviction and the district court's[1] denial of his renewed motion for acquittal. Hill argues: (1) the government constructively amended the indictment; (2) the government failed to establish the ammunition was in or affecting interstate commerce; and (3) the de minimis connection to interstate commerce is insufficient to satisfy the Commerce Clause. We affirm the district court.

         I.

         In the early morning hours of July 10, 2014, St. Paul police responded to reports of gunfire outside of Willard's Bar in St. Paul, Minnesota. While police investigated the area, they arrested and frisked Hill. As a result of the frisk, police seized twenty-three rounds of Federal brand 9-millimeter Luger ammunition from Hill.

         A grand jury indicted Hill on August 18, 2014, charging him with one count of being a felon in possession of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(e). Specifically the indictment stated that Hill "did knowingly possess, in and affecting interstate and foreign commerce, ammunition, as defined by Title 18, United States Code, Section 921(17)(A), that is, 23 live rounds of Federal brand 9-millimeter Luger ammunition, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(g)(1) and 924(e)(1)."

         Hill pled guilty on September 26, 2014. Two months later, however, he moved to withdraw his plea. The district court granted Hill's motion and he proceeded to trial. Before trial, Hill stipulated that he knowingly possessed ammunition and was a convicted felon. Therefore, the only remaining issue at trial was whether Hill's possession of the ammunition was in or affecting interstate commerce.

         At trial, the government presented expert testimony from Steve Rodgers, the product safety manager and fifteen-year employee for Vista Outdoor, the parent company of Federal Cartridge Ammunition. In his examination of the ammunition, Rodgers randomly disassembled two of the twenty-three rounds seized from Hill and separated them into the four major components that form a round of ammunition: (1) the primer, (2) the case, (3) the propellent powder, and (4) the bullet. Rodgers dated the ammunition as being no older than 2011 and after discussing the manufacturing origin of each component, Rodgers determined that three out of the four components- including the primer, case, and bullet-were all manufactured by Federal Cartridge in Minnesota.

         Rodgers concluded that the propellent powder was manufactured outside of Minnesota. To justify his conclusion, Rodgers testified that Federal Cartridge does not manufacture its own propellent powder but instead purchases 95% of it from two domestic sources-located in St. Marks, Florida, or Radford, Virginia-and the remaining 5% from international sources. Further, Rodgers opined that the propellent powder from the two rounds of ammunition he disassembled derived from St. Marks, Florida, specifically because he recognized the propellent powder was "ball powder, " which is a unique manufacturing process specific to Federal Cartridge's supplier in St. Marks. Finally Rodgers testified that the remaining twenty-one rounds were identical to the two rounds he had randomly disassembled and therefore his testimony applied to those rounds as well.

         At the close of the government's case, Hill moved for a judgment of acquittal which the district judge denied. The jury returned a guilty verdict. On August 13, 2015, Hill filed a renewed motion for judgment of acquittal, which the district court again denied. On October 15, 2015, the district court sentenced Hill to 192-months' imprisonment. Hill timely filed this appeal.

         II.

         Hill makes three arguments on appeal. He first argues the government constructively amended the indictment by presenting evidence at trial of how the individual components of ammunition were in or affecting interstate commerce rather than the ammunition as a whole. Second, the district court should have granted Hill's motion for acquittal because the government failed to establish the propellent powder component was manufactured outside of Minnesota at the time Federal Cartridge manufactured the ammunition seized from Hill-which is anywhere between 2011 and the date law enforcement seized the ammunition from Hill. Lastly, ...


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