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United States v. James

May 12, 1997






Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, East St. Louis Division.

No. 95-CR-30067 William L. Beatty, Judge.

Before HARLINGTON WOOD, JR., RIPPLE and MANION, Circuit Judges.

HARLINGTON WOOD, JR., Circuit Judge.


DECIDED MAY 12, 1997

After his trial and conviction on one count of using the United States Postal Service to facilitate possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, one count of possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute, and one count of conspiracy, Lafayette James was sentenced to 188 months in prison. James now appeals several aspects of his trial: namely, the district court's denial of his motion to suppress certain statements made during an interview with U.S. Postal Inspectors, and the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to allegedly exclude African-Americans from the jury. James also appeals his sentence, challenging the court's method of calculating the quantity of drugs attributable to him in computing his sentence, the court's refusal to grant him a reduction in his sentence for being a minimal participant, and the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine in the Sentencing Guidelines. We affirm.

We begin with a brief factual summary of the events leading up to James' arrest and trial. On May 4, 1995, Postal Inspector Cynthia Kindell intercepted a suspicious package at Lambert Airport in St. Louis, Missouri. She opened it and discovered approximately 7.76 ounces of crack cocaine inside. After removing most of the cocaine, Inspector Kindell replaced a small amount and combined it with brown sugar so that the package looked and felt as though it had not been disturbed. The package was addressed to Virgil Lockett, 5720 N. Belt West, 34-164, Belleville, Illinois. Lorenzo White was the name of the sender, and the return address was 9145 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, California.

The Belleville address to which the package was sent was a Mailboxes, Etc. store located in Country Club Plaza; "164" designated a mailbox inside the store rented by Virgil Lockett. The store's owner gave the inspectors permission to make a controlled delivery of the package, and she allowed Postal Inspector Ed Moreno to remain inside the store and observe as the package was picked up. That afternoon, a person later identified as Virgil Lockett did pick up the package. Inspector Moreno notified other inspectors, who followed Lockett as he walked with the package along the shopping plaza. He briefly entered a supermarket, walking in one door and out the other. When he entered the parking lot, the agents arrested him and recovered the package.

Inspector Kindell discovered that six other packages had been delivered to Lockett at the Mailboxes Etc. address between November, 1994 and April, 1995. Each package had the same return address of 9145 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, California, which further investigation revealed was the address of a convenience store called Mom & Pop's. The name of the sender on four of the six packages was "Lorenzo White," and the two other packages had senders by the names of "Michael Jones" and "Tom Johnson."

In preparation for Virgil Lockett's trial, Inspectors Kindell and L.A. Armstrong traveled to Los Angeles to photograph the Mom & Pop's store and to interview any employees to see if they knew Virgil Lockett or anyone by the name of Lorenzo White, Michael Jones or Tom Johnson. They also had in mind the possibility of finding a suspect, so they brought along some handwriting exemplar forms.

When the inspectors arrived at the Mom & Pop's store, they asked to see the manager. Carrie Hicks, a cashier, directed them to Ralph Njoku, the assistant manager. What happened next is disputed: Kindell and Armstrong say they identified themselves to Njoku as postal inspectors and told him that they were investigating drug shipments through the mail. However, Njoku and Hicks testified that Kindell and Armstrong identified themselves as salespeople. In any event, Njoku told the inspectors that he did not recognize the names of Virgil Lockett, Lorenzo White, Michael Jones or Tom Johnson. Njoku had never heard of Lockett, and when he showed the inspectors a list of the store's employees, none of the other names appeared on the list. The name "Lafayette" was on the list, but without a last name. Njoku told the inspectors that Lafayette, the store's manager, wasn't working that day.

The next day, Kindell and Armstrong returned to speak with Lafayette, the manager, to see if he knew any of the individuals named on the mailing labels. Lafayette James was at the store, so the inspectors identified themselves, showed him their credentials, and asked if they could speak to him. James stated, "I've sort of been expecting you." He invited them into his office, a small 3 or 4 feet X 4 feet cubicle. At the time, Kindell and Armstrong were both armed, but they concealed their weapons, Kindell in her bag and Armstrong under his shirt. James told them his last name, explained that Virgil Lockett was his cousin, and said he had been expecting them because he knew Lockett had gotten into trouble. *fn1 To explain why the packages were sent from his store, he told the inspectors that in November of 1994, Lockett was starting a gun business and had contacted James to tell him that someone would be stopping by the Mom & Pop's. James said a man named Lorenzo White came to the store with an Express Mail package for James to mail, and that James filled out the mailing label and accompanied White to the post office. When Inspector Kindell asked James, "Once I check the surveillance film [at the post office], is there any reason why just your picture would show up?" James then said that he went into the post office alone to mail the package, while White stayed in the car.

At trial, James testified that the tone of their interview was open and conversational. He did not attempt to leave or ask the inspectors to leave. James stepped outside the office at one point to smoke a cigarette, and Inspector Armstrong accompanied him. At the end of the interview, Kindell and Armstrong asked James to fill out some handwriting exemplars. James later testified that he did so freely. After noticing that James' handwriting looked like the handwriting on the mailing labels, the inspectors told James that he was no longer just a potential witness, but a suspect, and they read James his Miranda rights.

After the interview, Kindell and Armstrong went to the Los Angeles post office and discovered three mailing labels for packages coming from Virgil Lockett to the Mom & Pop's store. They knew James had picked up the packages, because his signature was on the label as the recipient. Lockett testified at trial that the packages contained cash payments sent to James for the purpose of purchasing cocaine. The inspectors arrested James shortly afterward.

At James' trial, the 42-person jury pool contained nine African-Americans, and the final jury venire consisted of three blacks and nine non-blacks. The prosecutor attempted to strike seven of the panelists using peremptory challenges; he was successful in striking four blacks and two whites, and was unsuccessful in striking one black woman. He openly endorsed the two other black women who eventually sat on the jury. The court and James raised Batson challenges each time the prosecutor tried to strike an African-American from the jury, and after hearing the prosecutor's explanations, the court was satisfied that all but one were legitimate and race-neutral.

The jury found James to be guilty on all three counts. At sentencing, the court based James' offense level on the total weight of drugs involved in the conspiracy. Because only the last package of drugs was confiscated, the court used the weight of the drugs in that package to estimate the weights of the drugs in the other six packages. In the package that Inspector Kindell confiscated, cocaine comprised approximately 71 percent of the total weight. The court then multiplied the total weights of the other packages by 71 percent to come up with a total estimate of 36.56 ounces of cocaine. This translated to 1036.47 grams, which, because it was more than 500 grams, meant that James' offense level was set at 36. The court also denied James' request for a 2- to 4-level reduction for being a minimal or minor participant in a drug ...

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