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United States v. Jackson

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 15, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
Alfred Latrell Jackson Defendant-Appellant United States of America Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
Curtis Lee Kemp Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: April 7, 2017

         Appeals from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Davenport

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge, and FENNER, [1] District Judge.

          FENNER, District Judge.

         This case arises from an investigation into a heroin-distribution conspiracy in Iowa City, Iowa. On July 21, 2015, a grand jury sitting in the Southern District of Iowa returned a superseding indictment charging Alfred Latrell Jackson and Curtis Lee Kemp, as well as five other individuals, with conspiracy to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1), and multiple counts of distribution of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). Before trial, the government filed a notice of intent to use Rule 404(b) evidence. On April 12, 2016, a jury returned guilty verdicts as to both Jackson and Kemp.

         The district court[2] sentenced Jackson to 188 months' imprisonment and sentenced Kemp to 84 months' imprisonment. Both filed timely notices of appeal. We affirm the district court's judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Beginning in 2012, Iowa City law enforcement witnessed a tremendous increase in the use and distribution of heroin within the jurisdiction. In July 2014, investigators identified a man named Jason Dawson as a source of heroin in the area. With the goal of ultimately purchasing heroin directly from Dawson, police began executing controlled purchases in the city. Those purchases led them to contact with both Dawson, and appellant Curtis Kemp. In July 2014, an officer was able to execute a search of Dawson's vehicle during a traffic stop. The officer discovered a small amount of heroin, $1,097 in United States currency, and two cellular phones. Officers later obtained warrants to search the contents of those phones. They identified two numbers Dawson frequently texted about heroin and large amounts of money. Officers searched Dawson's residence that same day. During the search, they discovered additional evidence of an on-going heroin distribution scheme. Dawson agreed to cooperate with authorities, and identified appellant Alfred Jackson as his heroin source. The officers set up a recorded phone call between Dawson and Jackson, and the two spoke about a pending transaction. Officers then searched Jackson's residence and discovered further evidence of a heroin distribution ring. Among the discovered evidence was a cell phone that matched the number Dawson frequently texted about heroin transactions.

         Officers eventually arrested both Kemp and Jackson. The two, along with five others, were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and several other related crimes. Kemp and Jackson now appeal their conviction.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Admission of Evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)

         Appellant Kemp argues that the district court abused its discretion when it, over Kemp's objection, allowed the government to present (1) evidence of a 2010 search of Kemp's apartment that showed Kemp was involved in selling controlled substances; and (2) testimony from Ricky Jones detailing that he and Kemp had used heroin together. We review the district court's admission of evidence under Rule 404(b) for abuse of discretion. United States v. Wilson, 619 F.3d 787, 791-92 (8th Cir. 2010). We will reverse the district court's decision "only when such evidence clearly had no bearing on the case and was introduced solely to prove the defendant's propensity to commit criminal acts." United States v. Littlewind, 595 F.3d 876, 881 (8th Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted).

         At trial, the government presented testimony from Investigator Blomgren, a narcotics investigator with the Iowa City Police Department. Blomgren's testimony covered many aspects of the investigation that snared Kemp, and included an account of a 2010 search of Kemp's apartment. In 2010, the police obtained a search warrant after they executed a controlled-buy with a different individual inside the unit. Officers discovered a crack cocaine pipe, crack cocaine paraphernalia, prescription pills, packaging materials, a digital scale, and cell phones during the search. The state of Iowa filed charges against Kemp over the officers' findings, but the charges were later dismissed. The district court allowed the government to introduce Blomgren's testimony about the 2010 search, but contemporaneously instructed the jury as follows:

Remember if you find that Defendant Kemp was involved in drug activity prior to the alleged conspiracy, this is not evidence that he committed the drug crimes alleged in this case. You may not convict a person simply because he may have committed similar acts in the past. Defendant Kemp is on trial only for the crimes charged, and you may consider this evidence of any prior acts that you find to be supported by evidence involving drug ...

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