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United States v. Madison

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 20, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
Johnny Madison Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: May 8, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Sioux City

          Before RILEY, BEAM, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Circuit Judge.

         The district court[1] sentenced Johnny Madison to 140 months in prison after Madison pled guilty to two counts related to methamphetamine distribution. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B)(viii), 846. Madison appeals his sentence and contends the district court erred in three ways by: (1) overstating the amount and purity level of methamphetamine attributed to him; (2) crediting testimony suggesting he possessed a firearm; and (3) imposing a substantively unreasonable sentence. We affirm. See 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (appellate jurisdiction).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Madison entered into a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine at some point in 2014 or early 2015. Law enforcement became aware of this fact in March 2015, when a confidential source reported Madison was dealing methamphetamine out of his house in Sioux City, Iowa. Officers then executed a controlled buy from Madison on July 1, when the confidential source paid $1, 200 for 24.5 grams of methamphetamine that was later tested and shown to be 99.1% pure. The confidential source contacted Madison again about two weeks later, this time looking to buy two ounces (about 56.7 grams) of methamphetamine. Madison agreed to the sale, but said he needed another day to acquire the full amount. The deal never took place, however, and the investigation continued.

         Officers arrested Madison on state drug charges in late July. Madison's wife (now ex-wife), Kelli, spoke with officers on July 29, and named Josh Navrkal and Daniel Suhr as two of Madison's suppliers. Madison agreed to a proffer interview in early September. The interview was not recorded and the parties disagree about what Madison said.[2] There is no question Madison admitted to purchasing a total of 141.75 grams of methamphetamine from Navrkal, and 56.7 grams from another supplier, Seid Tilahun. According to the police, Madison also admitted to purchasing a quarter pound of methamphetamine from Suhr on three separate occasions-340.2 grams in all. Madison denies saying any such thing. Suhr, who was also questioned by the police at one point, said he only sold Madison about 42.5 grams of methamphetamine, an estimate Madison "agrees with." There is no indication Madison said in the interview how pure any of this methamphetamine was, and these specific quantities were never seized or tested for purity.

         Madison was indicted in federal court in November 2015 for distributing and conspiring to distribute five or more grams of pure methamphetamine. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B)(viii), 846. He pled guilty to both counts. The United States Probation Office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), which attributed 519.1 grams of actual methamphetamine to Madison based upon his reported admissions from the proffer interview and the lab tests of methamphetamine seized from Madison's suppliers. This put Madison slightly over the 500-gram threshold and raised his base offense level to 34. See United States Sentencing Guidelines (Guidelines or U.S.S.G.) § 2D1.1(c)(3). The PSR recommended a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, which resulted in a total offense level of 31 and an advisory Guidelines range of 168 to 210 months. Madison objected to the PSR, arguing the gross quantity of methamphetamine was too much and the purity rate too high. Madison also moved for a downward variance.

         The government presented evidence to support the PSR's calculations at the sentencing hearing. Sergeant Troy Hansen testified about the procedure for proffer interviews, generally-officers present for the interview take notes, and then one officer is responsible for converting those notes into a report that must be drafted within five days of the interview. Here, the post-proffer report supported the challenged paragraphs in the PSR regarding gross quantity. Although Sergeant Hansen did not write this particular report, he was present for the interview and confirmed the summary was consistent with the notes he and his two fellow officers had taken. Sergeant Hansen also stated law enforcement seized and tested various methamphetamine samples from Tilahun, Navrkal, and Suhr, which served as the basis for the high average purity rates used in the PSR.

         Kelli testified for the government as well. She began by describing multiple instances of abuse during her tumultuous relationship with Madison. After one such incident, Kelli called the police when she found a rifle between the mattresses in Madison's bedroom. Apparently, the police seized the weapon, and Madison later admitted to Kelli the gun was his. Madison was never charged despite being a felon who could not legally possess a gun. Kelli then shared what she knew about Madison's brief history as a drug dealer. In addition to her general awareness that Madison bought, sold, and used methamphetamine, Kelli was present for two purchases Madison made from Suhr. On both occasions Madison paid "around a thousand" dollars for a quantity that was about the size of a "tennis ball, " figures consistent with an ounce (about 28.3 grams) of methamphetamine. That said, Kelli made clear she was not around every time Madison met with Suhr.

         The district court found the government "pretty easily establishe[d]" its burden to prove Madison was responsible for 519.1 grams of pure methamphetamine, [3] and considered the method used to calculate the purity level to be "perfectly appropriate." Thus, the district court adopted the PSR and agreed the advisory Guidelines range was 168-210 months. As for any variance, the district court recognized there were "a lot of moving parts in this case." There were mitigating factors like Madison's drug and gambling addictions, "history of some mental illness, " and supportive family. But there were also aggravating factors like Madison's gun possession, "a long career of committing crimes, " and the credible allegations of domestic assault made against him. To the district court, these factors "balance[d] each other out." Yet the district court varied down anyway, reasoning the overall quantity calculation was based on "very imprecise" (but sufficient) evidence and fearing a within-Guidelines sentence would be "too severe" given how close Madison was to the 500-gram threshold that had raised his base offense level. The district court gave Madison "the benefit of the doubt" and sentenced him to 140 months in prison-28 months below the bottom of his advisory Guidelines range. Madison appeals.


         A.Drug Quantity and ...

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