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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 27, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
KELVIN WILLIAMS, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter came before the Court for a bench trial on March 6 and 7, 2017, after Defendant Kelvin Williams waived his right to a trial by a jury. Upon careful review of the evidence and the arguments of the parties, and having observed the demeanor of the witnesses, the Court found on the record that the Government had proven Defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on each of Counts 1 through 7 of the indictment. Although Defendant has not expressly invoked Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 23, the Court supplements its findings on the record with the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         The evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt the following facts. On June 16, 2015, officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (“SLMPD”) responded to a residence at 4118 Shreve Avenue in the City of St. Louis, after a 911-caller reported that a burglary was in progress at that location (Testimony of SLMPD Custodian of Recordings Cliff Harper; Gv't Ex. 1 (recording of 911 call)). When the officers arrived at the residence, they observed glass on the floor of the front porch, a broken window in the front door, and blood on the broken window and a window shade attached to the door. At that time, the SLMPD officers entered the residence and performed a protective sweep thereof. A bedroom on the main floor of the residence appeared to have been ransacked, and the bed was overturned. The officers observed, in plain view on the bedroom floor, a firearm, papers, suspected drugs, and drug paraphernalia. The officers walked to the far end of the bedroom, where a long wooden dresser was wedged in front of an interior door. Because the door could not be opened and the dresser could not be passed without moving it, an officer moved the dresser, discovering a second gun and additional drugs that had previously been covered by the dresser. SLMPD Sergeant Scego observed in plain view scales, rubber bands, and baggies, i.e., items often associated with the drug trade. Officers then opened the door at the far end of the bedroom to complete their protective sweep of the residence (Testimony of Sgt. Mike Scego; Gv't Ex. 2-14 (photographs of 4118 Shreve Ave.)).

         Officers then entered the living room and dining room area of the residence where they discovered a home security system which included a digital video recorder (“DVR”) connected to a television and four video cameras. After securing the first and second floors of the residence, Sergeant Scego descended the basement stairs with the assistance of his flashlight. As he walked down the stairs, he observed a space that had been cut out of the ceiling near the wall by the stairs. He noticed a clear bag containing white powder hanging out of the space, in plain view. After the basement was cleared, Sergeant Scego seized the bag of white powder, which resembled some of the bags of suspected drugs officers had already found in the bedroom (Testimony of Sgt. Scego; Gv't Ex. 15-16). Before leaving Defendant's residence, the SLMPD officers unplugged the DVR and seized it, along with the guns and suspected drugs (Testimony of Sgt. Scego and Det. Ron Vaughn; Gv't Ex. 14, 19 (photographs of drugs, guns, and DVR device seized from 4118 Shreve Ave.)). The SLMPD officers did not find any instruments of drug use during their protective sweep of 4118 Shreve Ave. (Testimony of Det. Ron Vaughn).

         Subsequent forensic analysis of the DVR hard drive revealed that the four cameras attached to the DVR had recorded and saved hundreds of videos of Defendant's activities within the residence, some of which the Government presented at trial. Specifically, the Government introduced videos depicting Defendant receiving, bagging, cutting, weighing, selling, and distributing narcotics inside the residence (Gv't Ex. 45A-45F; 52; 53A-53D; 54A-54D; 55A-55B; 57A-57D; 58; 59A-59B; 62A-62C; 71A). The DVR video also depicts Defendant in possession of a firearm on various occasions (Gov't Ex. 46-52, 56, 60, 61A-B, 62A-62D, 65-69, 70A-70B). In one video, Defendant hid a firearm under a sofa cushion moments before a visitor arrived at the residence to purchase narcotics from Defendant (Gov't Ex. 70A-70B). Another DVR video shows Defendant displaying a firearm and narcotics on a nearby coffee table while he participated in a hand-to-hand drug transaction (Gv't Ex. 45A-45F).

         Laboratory testing later confirmed that the suspected drugs that were seized from 4118 Shreve Ave. on June 16, 2015, included 16.16 grams of substances containing heroin, 24.06 grams of a substance containing both heroin and morphine, 108.53 grams of a substance containing methamphetamine, 118.43 grams of a substance containing cocaine, 0.45 grams of cocaine base; and 53.99 grams of marijuana (Gov't Ex. 43). One of the guns seized from 4118 Shreve Ave. on June 16, 2015 was a Walther make P1 model semi-automatic pistol, which was subsequently test fired. The firearm functioned as designed, and no mechanical defects were observed. Walther Company was located in Germany at the time the firearm was produced, and the firearm was imported by the PW Arms Inc. Company, which is located in Redmond, Washington (Testimony of ATF Agent Larry Stoddard; Gov't Ex. 44). At trial, Detective Ron Vaughn and ATF Agent Larry Stoddard both testified that the DVR video appeared to depict Defendant possessing the Walther P1 semi-automatic pistol (Testimony of Det. Vaughn; Testimony of Agent Stoddard; Gov't Ex. 50).

         On July 30, 2015, Defendant was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts: (1) felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); (2) possession with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and punishable under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(viii); (3) possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and punishable under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C); (4) possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and punishable under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C); (5) possession with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and punishable under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(D); (6) maintaining a premises for the purpose of distributing a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(b); and (7) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Doc. 14).

         At trial, Defendant exercised his right to testify in his own defense. He testified that he had the DVR and cameras installed at 4118 Shreve Ave. in April 2015. He further testified that certain of the DVR videos accurately portrayed him receiving deliveries of narcotics from “associates” while he contemporaneously supplied U.S. currency to the “associates, ” depicted him processing and repackaging those narcotics, and showed him later redistributing narcotics to other “associates, ” as they provided him U.S. currency. He also admitted that he had possessed a gun but insisted that he had possessed it in self-defense, not in furtherance of his drug crimes. According to Defendant, he had been shot in the eye during an armed robbery, and his house had been burglarized previously. He testified that these incidents had prompted him to acquire a firearm for his own protection. Defendant admitted that he had at least one previous felony conviction; that on June 16, 2015, he owned and lived at the residence located at 4118 Shreve Ave.; and that he had lived there for several years prior to that date (Testimony of Defendant Kelvin Williams).

         COUNT 1: FELON IN POSSESSION OF A FIREARM

         Count 1 charges Defendant with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). To convict Defendant on Count 1, the Government was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) Defendant had a previous conviction of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year; (2) Defendant knowingly possessed a firearm; and (3) the firearm was in or affecting interstate commerce. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); United States v. Garcia-Hernandez, 803 F.3d 994, 996 (8th Cir. 2015) (citing United States v. Montgomery, 701 F.3d 1218, 1221 (8th Cir. 2012)). A conviction under § 922(g) may be based on constructive possession of the firearm. See United States v. Battle, 774 F.3d 504, 511 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing United States v. Walker, 393 F.3d 842, 846-47 (8th Cir. 2005)). “Constructive possession [of a firearm] is established if the person has dominion over the premises where the firearm is located, or control, ownership, or dominion over the firearm itself.” Id. (quoting Walker, 393 F.3d at 847).

         First, Defendant admitted that he had a previous conviction for a crime punishable by more than one year in prison, and the Government produced a certified record that Defendant had previously been convicted of possession of heroin, a felony under Missouri law (Gv't Ex. 41). Second, Defendant testified that he possessed a gun, and the DVR footage confirms his admission. Moreover, SLMPD officers found the Walther model P1 make semiautomatic pistol in Defendant's bedroom. See Battle, 774 F.3d at 511. Third, the Government established that the Walther P1 semiautomatic pistol was manufactured in Germany, that it was imported to the State of Washington, and that it thus travelled in interstate commerce before arriving in Defendant's possession in Missouri. The Court concludes that the Government has established beyond reasonable doubt each element of the crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

         The Court is not persuaded by Defendant's attempt to invoke self-defense as an affirmative defense. The Court concludes that, even assuming such as defense is available in the context of the § 922(g)(1) violation charged in Count 1, Defendant has not presented sufficient evidence to establish that he possessed the Walther P1 semi-automatic pistol in self-defense.

         Although the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet recognized a justification defense to a violation of § 922(g), it has outlined four elements a defendant would be required to ...


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