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United States v. Peebles

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 5, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Casey Peebles Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: December 15, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, KELLY and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted Casey Peebles of two offenses for his participation in a drug trafficking conspiracy. Peebles appeals the district court's[1] denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal as well as a number of evidentiary rulings. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         I.

         Following a five-day trial, a jury convicted Peebles of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 and possession with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). We recount the pertinent evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict.

         In 2013, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was investigating the distribution of narcotics out of an apartment located at 5911A Highland Avenue. The investigation revealed that two brothers, Joseph and Thomas Rander, were among the leaders of an organization moving cocaine, marijuana, and heroin from the San Bernardino, California, area to St. Louis, Missouri, for distribution. An informant, who began cooperating with law enforcement officers following his arrest, had advised investigators that members of the organization preferred to use young female couriers to transport the narcotics as they were less likely to draw the attention of law enforcement. The informant also told law enforcement that the organization had recently received and was distributing a kilogram of heroin out of 5911A Highland Avenue.

         Armed with this information, law enforcement began surveilling the Highland Avenue apartment building during the late evening hours on April 2, 2013. Just before midnight, the officers observed a dark-colored Land Rover drive up, and a male (later identified as Peebles) get out of the driver's side door. The man walked into the apartment building. A short time later, they saw the man leave the building while holding a bulky object in the right side of his coat and get back inside the Land Rover.

          The informant was inside the apartment while the officers were stationed outside. He relayed to law enforcement what happened after Peebles entered the apartment. The officers briefly followed the Land Rover before stopping it. Law enforcement officers encountered Peebles, Vernon Westcott (Peebles's cousin), and Leah Douglas inside the vehicle. Upon approaching the vehicle, Detective Blake Witzman observed Douglas, who was seated in the rear passenger seat, with her right hand and arm down the front of her pants.

         When the initial search did not reveal any heroin, the officers called for a female officer to search Douglas more thoroughly. Officer Erin Becherer arrived at the scene and conducted the search of Douglas. Officer Becherer discovered Douglas was concealing a bag containing 247.3 grams (8.723 oz.) of a substance containing heroin. At nearly the same time, another officer arrived with his trained drug-sniffing dog. During a walk-around, the dog alerted to the area near where Douglas had been seated. Douglas, Westcott, and Peebles were arrested and transported to the Drug Enforcement Administration building for questioning.

         Douglas was originally somewhat deceptive during the interview, telling task force officers that she had stolen the heroin from her boyfriend, who was not Peebles or Westcott. By the time of trial, however, Douglas was cooperating and testified that she was dating Peebles at the time of the stop. She explained that she often accompanied Peebles and was asked to hold narcotics for him as they traveled around to distribute the drugs. Douglas testified that on April 2, 2013, she was with Peebles when he drove to the apartment building on Highland Avenue and that Peebles went inside the building for about ten to fifteen minutes. Douglas said that after Peebles drove away, Peebles commented about the police following them, stating "Here come them boys, Cuz." Douglas testified that as Peebles was removed from the vehicle, Westcott handed heroin to Douglas and she hid it in her pants.

          At trial, the informant testified about what he observed on April 2, 2013. He told the jury that he saw a male get out of the driver's side door of a dark-colored Land Rover, enter the apartment, and get heroin from Joseph Rander. After Rander delivered the heroin, the informant let the male out of the apartment and the male returned to the Land Rover. The informant did not know the name of the man on the night in question, but identified Peebles in the courtroom as the male he saw that night.

         Over Peebles's objection, the informant testified to various statements made on April 2nd by Joseph Rander, including that Rander told the informant to "work the door, " or provide security at the apartment while Rander distributed the heroin. The informant also relayed the ...


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