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United States v. Geddes

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 3, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Rahmad Lashad Geddes Defendant-Appellant United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Rahmad Lashad Geddes Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: October 21, 2016

          Appeals from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul

          Before MURPHY, GRUENDER, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted Rahmad Lashad Geddes of one count of aiding and abetting sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; one count of aiding and abetting transportation with intent to engage in prostitution; and one count of being an armed career criminal in possession of a firearm. Geddes appeals a number of pre-trial, trial, and post-trial motions on which the district court[1] ruled in favor of the prosecution. We affirm.

         I.

         On January 6, 2014, Geddes traveled from Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Duluth, Minnesota with a woman named Grace Schreiner. Schreiner was under the impression that they were traveling to St. Paul, rather than Duluth, to sell drugs as they had done in the past. After a brief sojourn in St. Paul, they drove to Superior, Wisconsin where they checked into a motel and had sex. Thereafter, the pair drove to Duluth, and Geddes picked up cocaine from a supplier. Throughout the remainder of this trip, Geddes was actively involved in selling cocaine, and Schreiner witnessed Geddes meet another woman to exchange cocaine for two handguns.

         On January 7, they drove to Rochester, Minnesota to pick up Geddes's friend, Shannon Funk. On the return trip, Funk and Geddes proposed that Schreiner engage in prostitution upon arriving in Duluth. According to Schreiner's trial testimony, she felt she had to comply because she would not be able to return home if she refused. They checked into another Duluth hotel, and Geddes began cutting the quantity of cocaine he purchased into distribution amounts. Geddes and Funk created an advertisement on a website called Backpage.com with pictures of Schreiner and a telephone number to call, and Funk gave Schreiner a cellular phone on which to receive calls. This process culminated in Schreiner completing two transactions as a prostitute. In the first, she was paid to perform oral sex on one man at the hotel. Although the recipient was told this act would cost $120, he only left $20 on the table in the room. As a result of this discrepancy, Geddes slapped Schreiner four times in the face. The second act consisted of an encounter where a man came to the hotel and paid $20 but then left shortly thereafter without any sexual activity occurring.

         Throughout the trip, Geddes refused Schreiner's requests to return home. The two finally returned to Eau Claire on January 14, 2014. Once Geddes left, Schreiner told her pastor what had occurred, and he called the police. Geddes was indicted on three counts: (1) sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591; (2) transportation to engage in prostitution in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2421; and (3) being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). A superseding indictment was later returned that was the same as to Counts 1 and 2, but Count 3 was changed to charge Geddes as an armed career criminal in possession of a firearm.

         Before trial, Geddes filed three motions relevant to this appeal. First, he moved to sever the sex trafficking counts from the firearm count, arguing that the two instances arose from different facts and would depend on different witnesses. The district court denied this motion. Second, Geddes moved to exclude testimony from the victim of his earlier conviction for terroristic threats. The government sought to introduce this evidence as being relevant to show Geddes's intent on Count 1, and Geddes opposed its introduction as merely being propensity evidence. The district court allowed the evidence to be presented subject to a number of limiting instructions. Finally, Geddes sought to exclude the government's proposed expert witness on the basis that her testimony would not help the jury and would be overbroad. The district court also denied this motion, finding that Eighth Circuit precedent allowed expert testimony on the operation of sex trafficking rings. Geddes renewed all of these motions during trial, and the district court overruled them.

         After a three-day trial, the jury found Geddes guilty of all three counts, and the district court sentenced him to 282 months imprisonment. He brought this appeal challenging all three of the above rulings and the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction on Counts 1 and 2.

         II.

         A.

         The first issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in denying the motion to sever the sex trafficking counts from the firearm count. This Court reviews the denial of a motion to sever properly joined counts for an abuse of discretion. United States v. Erickson, 610 F.3d 1049, 1055 (8th Cir. 2010). Two or more offenses may be joined for trial "if the offenses charged-whether felonies or misdemeanors or both-are of the same or similar character, or are based on the same act or transaction, or are connected with or constitute parts of a common scheme or plan." Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(a). "If the joinder of offenses . . . or ...


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