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United States v. Outlaw

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 8, 2020

United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee,
Antonio Alonzo Outlaw, also known as Mike, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted: September 26, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Cedar Rapids

          Before LOKEN, COLLOTON, and KOBES, Circuit Judges.


         Antonio Alonzo Outlaw was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute heroin and aiding and abetting the distribution of heroin. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of distributing heroin. The district court[1] sentenced him within the advisory guideline range to 365 months' imprisonment. On appeal, Outlaw challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury verdicts, and he asserts error by the district court at sentencing. We affirm.


         The prosecution's theory of the case was that Outlaw engaged in heroin trafficking with a group of drug dealers who identified themselves as "We the Best." Outlaw admitted guilt on two counts of distribution that were based on controlled transactions with a person cooperating with law enforcement. To prove the conspiracy count, the government called numerous witnesses who testified that they acquired heroin from Outlaw or persons associated with him between 2013 and January 2017. The aiding and abetting charge was based on a controlled transaction on December 10, 2014. A cooperator testified that he met with Outlaw and an associate nicknamed "Black," and received fifteen bags of heroin-five from Outlaw and ten from "Black." The associate "Black," however, testified that while Outlaw drove the two men to the drug transaction, only "Black" distributed heroin to the cooperator on that occasion.

         Outlaw contends on appeal that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions by the jury. On claims of insufficient evidence, we affirm a conviction if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. El Herman, 583 F.3d 576, 579 (8th Cir. 2009); see Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979).

         The conspiracy charge required the government to prove three elements: (1) that there was an agreement to distribute heroin, (2) that Outlaw voluntarily and intentionally joined the conspiracy, and (3) that Outlaw knew the purpose of the conspiracy when he joined. United States v. Hickman, 764 F.3d 918, 924 (8th Cir. 2014). "An agreement to join a conspiracy need not be explicit but may be inferred from the facts and circumstances of the case." United States v. Conway, 754 F.3d 580, 587 (8th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation omitted).

         In the course of proving a conspiracy to distribute heroin, the government presented overwhelming evidence that Outlaw distributed heroin during the relevant period. Outlaw pleaded guilty to two counts of distribution, and the government presented evidence of these controlled transactions. More than a dozen separate witnesses testified that Outlaw distributed heroin to them on occasions totaling in the hundreds during the time of the charged conspiracy.

         There was ample evidence to show that Outlaw knowingly and intentionally joined a conspiracy to distribute heroin. Several witnesses testified that after they obtained a telephone number at which to contact Outlaw to purchase heroin, they called the number to place an order for drugs. The witnesses testified that different persons answered their calls: sometimes it was Outlaw, and sometimes it was one of several other persons. According to the testimony, sometimes Outlaw arranged a transaction on the telephone, but a "runner" would deliver the drugs to the buyer. Other times, Outlaw answered the call and delivered the drugs himself; in another scenario, a third person would answer the phone and deliver the drugs. Some witnesses also testified that they communicated with Outlaw's telephone by text message to arrange heroin purchases. Return text messages from Outlaw's phone number typically included the "We the Best" group moniker at the end.

         Taking the evidence as a whole, a reasonable jury could infer that Outlaw distributed heroin as part of a conspiracy with other persons involved with the "We the Best" group. Outlaw attacks the credibility of several prosecution witnesses who admitted to drug use or cooperation agreements with the government. Credibility, however, is almost exclusively matter for the jury, and the sheer number of witnesses who testified to a similar pattern of activity with Outlaw gave the jury sound reason to believe that Outlaw was a member of the charged conspiracy.

         The aiding and abetting conviction arose from Outlaw's involvement in a controlled drug transaction on December 10, 2014. The government had the burden to prove that Outlaw "took an affirmative act to further the underlying criminal offense, with the intent of facilitating the offense." United States v. Borders, 829 F.3d 558, 565 (8th Cir. 2016). The intent element required proof that Outlaw had advance knowledge of all the characteristics of the transaction that made it illegal-"knowledge that enable[d] him to make the relevant legal (and indeed, moral) choice" to facilitate the offense. Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 65, 78 (2014).

         The prosecution's evidence established that Outlaw drove to the site of the drug transaction with an associate nicknamed "Black" as a passenger. The cooperating person testified that Outlaw and "Black" transferred heroin to him. "Black" admitted distributing heroin, but denied that Outlaw did so. Whether or not the jury was convinced that Outlaw personally transferred heroin on this occasion, the jury reasonably could have inferred that Outlaw knew in advance that he was driving to a drug transaction, and did so intentionally to facilitate his associate's transfer of heroin. In addition to the evidence about this particular transaction, the jury also heard other testimony that Outlaw and "Black" worked together in trafficking heroin. Evidence of the larger ...

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