Submitted: December 14, 2018
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.
Druger argues the district court erred by denying his motion
for judgment of acquittal, because there was insufficient
evidence to support two of the counts of his conviction. We
affirm the district court.
March 2014, the Audrain County Sheriff's office began
investigating Robert Reno for suspected trafficking of
methamphetamine in and around Mexico, Missouri. This
investigation led to a warrant for a wiretap on Reno and an
investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The wiretap revealed an ongoing drug operation in which
Druger was participating. Druger rented a bifurcated
warehouse building and sub-leased half of the building to
Reno. In December of 2015, the DEA obtained warrants to
search the warehouse, Reno's residence, and Druger's
residence. In Druger's residence, law enforcement found
scales, pipes, and plastic baggies, some of which tested
positive for methamphetamine residue. The law enforcement
officers also discovered $7, 000 in cash in a safe and four
firearms - at least three of which were loaded - throughout
2016, a state law enforcement investigation of Druger was
also launched, resulting in a second warrant to search
Druger's residence. During a sweep of the house officers
discovered 36.02 grams of methamphetamine inside the toilet
and related plumbing. The officers also found digital scales,
baggies, drug pipes, and other paraphernalia, along with a
firearm in the bedroom.
grand-jury indicted Druger on five counts related to drug
possession, trafficking, and the use of firearms in
furtherance of drug trafficking. A six-day jury trial ensued.
At the close of the Government's case in chief, Druger
moved for judgment of acquittal on all five counts. The
district court denied Druger's motion and the jury
subsequently convicted him on all five counts. Druger now
appeals the district court's denial of his motion for
judgment of acquittal on count five: possession of firearms
in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime under 18 U.S.C.
§ 924(c)(1)(A); and count seven: possession with the
intent to distribute methamphetamine under 21 U.S.C. §
review de novo the denial of a motion for judgment of
acquittal based on the sufficiency of the evidence. See
United States v. De La Torre, 907 F.3d 581, 594 (8th
Cir. 2018). We examine the evidence in the light most
favorable to the verdict and also accept all reasonable
inferences in favor of the verdict. Id. This is a
"very strict" standard of review "and we will
reverse a conviction only if we conclude that no reasonable
jury could have found the accused guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt." Id. As long as one theory based on the
evidence presented could allow for a reasonable jury to find
Druger guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we must uphold the
jury verdict. See id.
Possession of a Firearm
on the evidence presented during trial, we conclude a jury
could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Druger possessed
firearms in furtherance of a drug crime.
conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) required the
Government to show beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) Druger
knowingly possessed a firearm, and (2) a nexus existed
between the same firearm and the drug crime. See United
States v. Close, 518 F.3d 617, 619 (8th Cir. 2008)
(noting such a nexus requires more than simultaneous
possession). "The jury may infer that the firearm was so
used 'when it is kept in close proximity to the drugs, it
is quickly accessible, and there is expert testimony
regarding the use of firearms in ...