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United States v. Jackson

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 27, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee
Terrance C. Jackson, Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: December 15, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of North Dakota - Bismarck

          Before KELLY and MURPHY, Circuit Judges, and MONTGOMERY, [1] District Judge.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted Terrance C. Jackson of second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon for the March 27, 2017, killing of Gerald Smith on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in New Town, North Dakota. The district court[2]sentenced Jackson to 480 months of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Jackson appeals the district court's denial of his suppression motion, his motion in limine to admit evidence of Smith's violence, his request for surrebuttal argument at closing, his motion to continue sentencing, and his requests for a sentencing variance and a continuance of the sentencing hearing. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and, finding no reversible error, we affirm.

         I. Background

         On March 27, 2014, Smith and his friend Neal Hale were on the side of the highway picking up trash. Jackson was driving in his pickup truck with his cousin when he saw Smith, and he pulled over. Hale approached the truck, and Jackson told him that Smith had pulled a gun on him a few days earlier and he just wanted to talk to him. Jackson got out of the truck, removing his hat and sunglasses, and Jackson and Smith approached one another. Smith hit Jackson in the face with his fist, causing Jackson to stagger backward. The two men then began swinging at each other with Smith making contact once more, elbowing Jackson in the body. Next, Jackson reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife, which he swung at Smith twice. The knife struck Smith in the chest on the second swing. Smith stumbled toward the roadway and collapsed as Jackson jumped into the pickup, which his cousin was now driving, and drove off. Smith died at the scene.

         As they drove away, Jackson said, while sobbing, "I think I killed him." Jackson's cousin pulled over and got out of the car, and Jackson continued on to the apartment where his girlfriend was staying. When he entered, his girlfriend was lying on the couch. Jackson laid the knife he used to stab Smith on her chest, and told her he had stabbed Smith. A friend then braided and cut Jackson's long hair. As is traditional in his culture, Jackson gave the braid to his brother to give to their mother. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived at the apartment, found Jackson hiding in a closet, and arrested him.

         Officers arrested Jackson pursuant to a federal warrant for violations of conditions of supervised release from a 2011 burglary conviction as well as on tribal charges. A tribal officer read Jackson his Miranda warnings and took him to the Gerald Tex Fox Justice Center (Justice Center) in New Town, North Dakota. A few hours later, several officers questioned Jackson and received consent to swab his hands. Prior to trial, Jackson moved to suppress statements he made during this questioning, which the district court denied.

         Jackson pursued a self-defense theory at trial. Jackson presented evidence that his family and Smith's family had a history of violent altercations with one another. Most recently, about two days prior to the stabbing, Smith pointed a gun at Jackson while they were at Jackson's cousin's house. Prior incidents included Smith hitting Jackson's sister in the face earlier in 2014 and Smith stabbing Jackson in the torso in 2006 when the two were 15 years old. To support his self-defense claim, Jackson moved in limine to admit these prior violent acts by Smith, among many others, as well as evidence of Smith's reputation for violence. The district court permitted some evidence of Smith's prior violence at trial but excluded certain specific acts and related evidence.

         A four-day jury trial commenced on December 14, 2015, at which the government called seventeen witnesses and the defense called six, including Jackson. Prior to trial and again before closing, Jackson moved to present a surrebuttal closing argument, contending that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29.1, which controls the order of closing arguments, was unconstitutional as applied to him. In each instance, the district court denied the request for surrebuttal argument. After asking a question regarding the elements of the lesser-included voluntary manslaughter charge, the jury found Jackson guilty of second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

         Using the 2015 Sentencing Guidelines, the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) determined Jackson had an offense level of 38 and a criminal history category of VI for a sentencing range of 360 months to life. Jackson's criminal history category was raised from V to VI because he was designated a career offender due to convictions for burglary and aggravated domestic assault. Even without career offender status, Jackson's sentencing range would have been unchanged at 360 months to life. After the issuance of the PSR, Jackson moved to continue the sentencing hearing for one month to obtain a mental health evaluation to support an argument for a variance from the Guidelines range. The government opposed the continuance, and the district court denied it.

         At the May 16, 2016, sentencing hearing, the government presented testimony from Smith's family and a witness to the crime, and the defense offered the testimony of Jackson's mother and cousin. After hearing the arguments of counsel, including Jackson's request for a variance based on Smith's violent history, the district court sentenced Jackson to 480 months imprisonment on the second-degree murder count and 120 months imprisonment on the assault with a deadly weapon count, to be served concurrently, followed by five years of supervised release.

         Jackson now appeals his conviction and sentence, arguing the district court committed multiple errors before, during, and after trial.

         II. Discussion

         Jackson appeals rulings made by the district court at four stages of the proceedings. First, Jackson argues the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made to officers six hours after his arrest as the product of unlawful interrogation in violation of his Miranda rights. Second, Jackson contends the district court erred in excluding certain evidence of Smith's violence. Third, Jackson challenges the district court's refusal to permit his counsel to offer a surrebuttal closing argument. Finally, Jackson asserts that his sentence is procedurally and substantively unreasonable and that the district court erred in refusing to continue his sentencing hearing. The court addresses these arguments in turn.

         A. Motion to Suppress

         Before trial, Jackson moved to suppress all the statements he made to interviewing officers on the day of his arrest as a violation of his Miranda rights. The court held a suppression hearing at which tribal officer Jacob Gadewoltz, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent Chad Coulter, and the defendant testified. Following the hearing, the district court denied the motion, concluding that the officers' questions did not amount to interrogation and thus did not violate Miranda. We review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. See United States v. Laurita, 821 F.3d 1020, 1023 (8th Cir. 2016).

         Jackson was arrested at 5:13 p.m., two hours after Smith's death, pursuant to tribal charges and a federal warrant dated March 19, 2014, for violating the terms and conditions of supervised release from a 2011 burglary conviction. Officer Gadewoltz arrested Jackson, read him Miranda warnings, and took him to the Justice Center.

         FBI Agents Coulter and Bruce Bennett and Bureau of Indian Affairs Agent Gerald White went to the Justice Center to swab Jackson's fingers for DNA evidence and to attempt to interview him. They set up in the jail administrator's unoccupied office, arranging four chairs for the three agents and Jackson. Jackson was escorted to the office at 9:53 p.m. and was seated, unrestrained, in the empty chair closest to the door. Agent Coulter described Jackson as looking "sick and exhausted, " sitting with his arms folded and bent over.

         Agent Coulter, who took notes during the interview and later drafted a report, asked Jackson for information about his family, address, and date of birth, which Jackson provided. Agent Bennett showed Jackson a copy of the federal warrant and asked him if he knew why he was detained. Jackson said he knew of the warrant, but that he did not understand why he was in jail. Jackson also provided the name of his probation officer at the agent's request.

         Then, Agent Coulter asked and received Jackson's consent to swab his hands. Toward the end of the swabbing process, Agent Bennett asked about the events from earlier in the day, and Jackson responded that he would prefer to have an attorney present to discuss it. According to Agent Coulter's testimony, Jackson then "voluntarily blurted out" that he had been "slamming meth, " that he had been up for several days since his birthday, and that the only sleep he had was in the jail just prior to the interview. Agent Coulter also testified that Jackson used the phrases "fucked up" and "don't remember." Contrary to Agent Coulter, Jackson testified that these statements were made in response to questions from the officers regarding his drug use and how long he had been awake.

         Following these statements, Jackson pulled his knees to his chest and clutched his arms around them. Agent Coulter testified that at this point the officers tried to ascertain Jackson's mental and physical state. They asked him about medications and allergies and to rate his well-being on a scale of one to ten. Jackson responded he was not taking any prescription medications, had no allergies, and rated his well-being at a level three. Agent Bennett also asked Jackson, "Do you know when you last cut your hair?" Jackson answered that he did not know. Agent Coulter testified that this question was posed because Jackson's t-shirt had a substantial amount of hair along the shoulders and the officers were trying "to determine if he even knows what that day's date was."

         At the end of the interview, the conversation returned to the revocation warrant and Jackson stated that he wanted an attorney present to discuss it. ...

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