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United States v. Crowley

March 29, 2002


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 00-CR-0007-C--Barbara B. Crabb, Chief Judge.

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

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

Argued March 29, 2001

William Crowley, his wife Vinette Crowley, and his brother-in-law Jerry Hallgren were convicted of drug offenses stemming from a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in Superior, Wisconsin. The Crowleys, who pleaded guilty, jointly challenge on appeal the district court's denial of their motion to suppress evidence. Vinette Crowley also appeals the district court's refusal to sentence her as a "minor participant" in the conspiracy. Hallgren, who went to trial, appeals several aspects of his conviction and sentence. We affirm the district court's judgments in all respects.


I. William and Vinette Crowley

Sometime in 1992, federal authorities in the Western District of Wisconsin began to suspect that William and Vinette Crowley were distributing methamphetamine. Their home was the subject of two search warrants; both searches turned up evidence of methamphetamine distribution, such as scales, plastic baggies, and glass vials. In 1997, authorities obtained a warrant to seize a suspicious package intercepted by the U.S. Postal Service that was addressed to the Crowleys. A search revealed that the package contained two ounces of methamphetamine. Police then notified area delivery services, including the United Parcel Service ("UPS"), to watch for suspicious packages addressed to the Crowleys. The police directed that anyone discovering such a package should contact authorities.

On June 30, 1997, UPS driver Cathleen Champaigne noticed a package addressed to the Crowleys. Remembering that police were on the lookout for suspicious packages sent to the Crowleys, she opened the package. Inside she found a tobacco-like substance that she suspected was marijuana. She flagged down a county deputy sheriff and asked him to notify the Superior Police Department. The deputy sheriff, in turn, contacted Superior police officers Jerome Koneczy and Todd Maas, who were assigned to the narcotics unit.

Officers Koneczy and Maas caught up with Champaigne later that day as she was making a delivery. The three stood in Champaigne's truck while the officers questioned her about the package. Champaigne told the officers her suspicions about the package's contents. By this time, she had resealed the package for delivery. The police inspected the outside of the package and noted that it was similar to the package seized by the postal service earlier that month. Both packages had been addressed to "Mr. Mrs. Crowley, 726 Winter" with the state listed as "Wi" with no period, and both had been sent from California.

After inspecting the outside of the package, Officer Koneczy handed it back to Champaigne. He became momentarily distracted by a car pulling behind Champaigne's truck. Without warning, Champaigne reopened the package and began removing its contents. Among the items inside was a baggie containing what appeared to Officer Koneczy to be coffee grounds. From viewing the outside of the baggie, Officer Koneczy saw a hard, white substance hidden in the coffee grounds that he suspected was methamphetamine. The officers left and obtained a search warrant; a subsequent search revealed that the package contained 3.8 ounces of methamphetamine.

Federal authorities continued to investigate the Crowleys' activities and in January 2000 obtained a three-countindictment against the Crowleys and Jerry Hallgren, Vinette Crowley's brother. Count 1 charged all three defendants with engaging in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine between November 1994 and February 1998, in violation of 21 U.S.C. sec. 846 and sec. 841. Counts 2 and 3 charged the Crowleys with possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. sec. 841.

The Crowleys moved to suppress the package seized from the UPS truck, arguing that Champaigne had been acting as an "agent" of the police when she opened the package, and that her warrantless search violated the Fourth Amendment. A magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing and recommended denying the motion. The magistrate judge concluded that Champaigne's actions could not be imputed to the police because she was "acting on her own, without having received any direction from the police" when she opened the package. The district court adopted the magistrate judge's recommendation and denied the motion to suppress.

Vinette Crowley subsequently entered a conditional plea of guilty to one count of attempted possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Her plea agreement preserved her right to appeal the suppression issue. In the presentence report ("PSR"), the probation officer estimated that the conspiracy had involved 4,381 grams of methamphetamine. The probation officer recommended that Ms. Crowley be held responsible for approximately 850 grams of methamphetamine, representing amounts that two government witnesses admitted to shipping to the Crowleys from California over a period of months. The probationofficer noted that Ms. Crowley had handled the details of the shipments, including wiring money and tracking the "missing" packages that had been confiscated by law enforcement.

Based on her plea agreement, Ms. Crowley and the government both argued at sentencing that she should receive a downward adjustment as a "minor participant" in the conspiracy. See U.S.S.G. sec. 3B1.2(b). The district court rejected this argument, finding that Ms. Crowley was not a "minor participant" in the transactions for which she was being held responsible, but instead was significantly involved in acquiring the California shipments. The court ...

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