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United States v. Druger

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 4, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Douglas Druger Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: December 14, 2018

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

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          GRASZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Douglas Druger argues the district court[1] 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.

          I. Background

         In 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 the house.

         In 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.

         A grand-jury indicted Druger on five counts related to drug possession, trafficking, and the use of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking.[2] 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. § 841(a)(1).

         II. Discussion

         We 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.

         A. Possession of a Firearm

         Based 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.

         Druger's 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 ...


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