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United States v. Huston

February 20, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 00-CR-152--J.P. Stadtmueller, Chief Judge.

Before Ripple, Kanne, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

Argued September 20, 2001

A jury convicted Orpheus Huston of aiding and abetting in the distribution of cocaine base ("crack cocaine"). Huston appeals on the basis that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel because the district court failed to conduct a proper inquiry into his request for new counsel. We affirm.

I. History

In late September of 1999, a registered FBI informant, Albert Perkins, contacted Dorrie Washington in an effort to purchase a large quantity of crack cocaine. While Washington did not have any crack cocaine, she offered to introduce Perkins to someone who did have crack cocaine in exchange for an "introduction fee." Washington also told Perkins that the price for "an egg and a half" of crack cocaine would be $6,500. Later that day, Washington suggested that Perkins meet Huston in order to purchase the crack cocaine. Next, FBI agents made arrangements with Perkins to conduct a controlled purchase. Perkins drove to Washington's house, met Washington, and together they drove to the Candyland store at 3413 West North Avenue in Milwaukee ("Candyland"). At Candyland, Washington introduced Perkins to Huston, the Candyland owner. Huston told Perkins that he did not have any crack cocaine at the time, and Perkins and Washington left the store.

Later that same night, Perkins placed a phone call to Huston, which the FBI recorded and monitored. During that call, Perkins and Huston discussed the crack cocaine purchase, and Huston stated that he still did not have the crack cocaine but that he and Perkins should meet the next morning. The next day, FBI agents again made arrangements with Perkins to conduct a controlled purchase, but when Perkins met Huston, Huston did not have the crack cocaine. Over the next few days, Perkins called Washington several times in an effort to set up another meeting with Huston.

On the morning of September 28, 1999, FBI Special Agents Gregory Spencer and Mark Bowling met Perkins at a prearranged location. Agents Spencer and Bowling searched Perkins and his car and finding neither drugs nor money, they gave Perkins $6,610 in prerecorded money.*fn1 Perkins, trailed by Agents Spencer and Bowling, went directly to Washington's house to pick her up. Perkins and Washington then drove to Candyland. At approximately 11:30 a.m., Detective Kuhtz of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department and Officer Matos of the City of Milwaukee Police Department witnessed Perkins and Washington enter Candyland. Upon entering Candyland, Huston greeted Perkins and directed him to a room in the back of the store. All law enforcement agents remained outside of Candyland during the controlled purchase. Huston and Perkins went into the back room while Washington stayed at the front of the store. In the back room, Huston pulled out a plastic bag containing 248 grams of crack cocaine from his desk. Huston then handed the crack cocaine to Perkins, and Perkins paid Huston $6,500. Huston left the back room and met Washington at the front of the store and gave her $110.

At approximately 11:35 a.m., Detective Kuhtz and Officer Matos witnessed Perkins exit Candyland with the bag of crack cocaine. Washington and Huston stayed at Candyland until 11:45 a.m. Upon Perkins's departure, Agents Spencer and Bowling resumed visual surveillance, and Perkins drove directly from Candyland to the predetermined rendezvous site. At the rendezvous site, Perkins gave Agent Spencer the plastic bag containing the crack cocaine and Agent Spencer took Perkins's statement. Agent Bowling searched Perkins and his car for a second time and found neither drugs nor money.

On July 21, 2000, an arrest warrant was issued for Huston. Six days later, on July 27, 2000, Huston retained attorney James Toran to represent him. On August 8, 2000, Huston was indicted for aiding and abetting in the distribution of crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. sec. 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. sec. 2. On August 22, 2000, a superseding indictment added Washington as a co-defendant. On August 25, 2000, both defendants were arraigned and trial was set for October 23, 2000. After being released on bail, Huston went to Toran's office and obtained his case file.*fn2

On the morning of the joint trial, Toran informed the court that Huston had not returned the case file. Further, Toran stated that he had not completely reviewed the case file before Huston obtained it. Toran explained to the court that he had called the courtroom deputy clerk on October 20, 2000, and told him that he did not have the case file. Toran stated that the deputy clerk then suggested he obtain the case file from his client and proceed to trial.

The district court then asked Huston to address any problem he had with Toran. Huston stated that even though he and Toran had spoken "numerous times," they had been unable to meet. Huston stated that he "d[id]n't feel that [Toran was] prepared to represent [him] in this case at this time because [they had not] discussed anything about the case." Huston then asked the court for new counsel or, in the alternative, for time to review his case file with Toran. The court inquired into the case file's location and Huston stated that he did not bring the case file with him. The court ordered Huston to retrieve the case file immediately, and Huston left the courthouse and returned forty-five minutes later with the case file.

Upon Huston's return, the court denied Huston's request for new counsel and noted that neither Huston nor Toran raised any concern at the pretrial conference the preceding week. Further, the court acknowledged that Huston's case was straightforward and involved only one discrete drug transaction. The court then stated that opening statements would not begin that day. The district court also provided an eighteen-hour recess and a conference room for Huston and Toran to review the case file and prepare for trial. Finally, the court asked Huston and Toran if either of them had anything else to address before adjourning for the day. Toran stated that it was possible that he would have to add one witness to his witness list. Huston remained silent.

Opening statements began the morning of October 24, 2000. All testimony was completed by that afternoon, and on October 25, 2000, the jury found Huston and Washington guilty. Huston did not voice any complaint about Toran or his representation on October 24 or 25. Huston now appeals, contending that the district court's inquiry into his request for new counsel was inadequate, and therefore, his conviction should be reversed. In the ...

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