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United States v. Williams

October 30, 1997

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

DENNIS J. WILLIAMS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

No. 95 CR 30090 William D. Stiehl, Judge.

Before Easterbrook, Kanne, and Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judges.

Kanne, Circuit Judge.

Argued April 8, 1997

Decided October 30, 1997

A jury found Dennis Williams guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court sentenced him as an Armed Career Criminal. Williams raises three challenges to his conviction and one to his sentence. We reject them all.

I. History

On March 11, 1995, Dennis Williams ("Williams") and his girlfriend Darcell Franklin ("Darcell") were shopping at the St. Clair Mall in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Williams drew the attention of other shoppers in the parking lot because he had somehow locked himself inside Darcell's car and was calling for help. Shoppers brought Williams' plight to the attention of mall security, who helped him out of the car and then called the Fairview Heights Police Department to report the odd incident.

A Fairview Heights police officer checked Darcell's license plate against their computer files and found that the plates were suspended and expired. The expired plates, however, bore a current registration sticker in Williams' name. After learning of an outstanding warrant for Williams' arrest, the officer followed Williams and Darcell out of the parking lot and pulled them over. He arrested Williams immediately on the outstanding warrant. A search of the car revealed two guns, prompting police to arrest Darcell as well.

Police questioned Williams briefly en route to the station, to no avail. They booked Williams and Darcell and placed them in separate cells. Some time later, around 1:00 a.m., police questioned Williams again. He admitted owning one of the guns. There is no dispute that police properly gave Williams his Miranda warnings.

On March 12, Darcell telephoned her mother, Alaina Franklin ("Alaina"), from the police station. Darcell allegedly told her that Williams was not the owner of the guns, but he claimed ownership of them in order to protect Darcell. Presumably Darcell needed Williams' protection since Darcell had no permit to carry guns and the serial number on one of the guns was scratched off. Darcell also telephoned her friend, Valerie Johnson ("Johnson"). She allegedly restated the story to Johnson, i.e. that Williams had claimed the guns in order to protect her.

Williams was a heroin addict with a habit costing $200-400 per day. While he sat in jail after his arrest, he began to suffer withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can, occasionally, be life threatening. On March 12, 1995, one day after Williams' arrest, a county doctor administered 60 mg of phenobarbital to counteract the withdrawal effects. Williams took two more 30 mg doses sometime on March 13.

On March 13 at around 1:00 p.m., Fairview Heights police officers and an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms interviewed Williams. Williams made an oral statement which the ATF agent transcribed. In his statement Williams admitted owning one of the guns. Later, the ATF agent and police officers testified that Williams did not seem ill or out of sorts. One officer testified that he seemed a bit "jumpy," but no more than an average criminal defendant might seem during an interview with police.

Williams was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. sec. 922(g)(1). Before trial, the defense attempted to suppress Williams' statements on the ground that Williams' drug use, withdrawal, or use of phenobarbital made his statements involuntary. The court refused to suppress that evidence. At trial, Williams called Johnson and Alaina to testify. They would have testified that Darcell called them from jail and told them that the guns were not actually Williams', but the district court sustained the prosecution's hearsay objections. Williams argued at trial that Congress lacks the authority to regulate firearms. The district court rejected this argument. ...


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