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United States v. Adams

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 16, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Deshon T. Adams, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued May 31, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 16-CR-3 - William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

          Before Kanne, Sykes, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         Deshon Adams pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon and was sentenced to 87 months in prison-the top of the range recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines. Adams asks us to remand his case for resentencing, arguing that the judge impermissibly considered unreliable evidence linking him to seven unsolved shootings when weighing the sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

         We reject this argument and affirm. The challenged evidence consists mainly of summaries of police reports describing some of the physical evidence from the shootings and memorializing statements from witnesses, confidential informants, and jailhouse snitches connecting Adams to the crimes. It also includes several statements by Adams himself, who had bragged to police about his involvement in gang violence, though only in very general terms. The government also introduced testimony from a police detective about the reliability of some, though not all, of the confidential informants.

         The judge wisely approached this material with caution and in the end declined to make any explicit findings on the subject. Instead, the judge relied on the government's presentation only very generally, and only to the extent that it confirmed what the presentence report had already documented: Adams is a headstrong young Vice Lords gang member who began committing crimes at age 14 and immersed himself in the gang's subculture of firearms possession and violence. That careful and limited approach raises no due-process concerns and was certainly not an abuse of discretion.

         I. Background

         In September 2015 Adams was 20 years old and already a longtime member of the Vice Lords gang in Racine, Wisconsin, with a lengthy record of criminal convictions as a juvenile and adult. On September 25 he was walking down the street with his 15-year-old cousin when a police squad drove by and made a U-turn. As the officers passed by a second time, Adams lifted his shirt and said, "Hey, I got nothin' on me." The officers stopped and detained Adams on a probation warrant, then retraced his steps to the place where they first spotted him. There, under the wheelchair ramp of a house, they found a 9mm semiautomatic handgun affixed with a high-capacity 30-round magazine. Adams had ditched the gun under the ramp when he first saw the police approach. When questioned about it, Adams indicated that he expected to get a short prison sentence for violating his probation and a concurrent sentence for possessing the gun, which he implied would not be a big deal.

         Adams was charged with one count of possessing a firearm as a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(a)(2). The case was assigned to Judge Griesbach, and Adams eventually pleaded guilty. The presentence report ("PSR") detailed Adams's affiliation with the Vice Lords gang in Racine and his lengthy criminal history as a juvenile and adult, which included (among other crimes) several firearms offenses and a battery. Indeed, and as the PSR documented, before his latest arrest, Adams had been in juvenile or adult custody almost continuously since the age of 14. The PSR calculated an offense level of 21 and a criminal-history category V, yielding a guidelines sentencing range of 70 to 87 months in prison.

         At sentencing Judge Griesbach considered and rejected Adams's challenges to the PSR and adopted the probation officer's calculation of the advisory range. He then invited arguments from counsel on the § 3553(a) factors. At this point the government's sentencing memorandum came into play. The prosecutor's written submission pointed to evidence linking Adams to as many as seven unsolved gang-related shootings in Racine, including a murder and an attempted murder. Adams contested the reliability of the government's submission, especially to the extent that it relied on statements from confidential informants. In light of the dispute, the judge adjourned the hearing and gave the parties an opportunity to supplement the record.

         The government submitted a supplemental sentencing memorandum, this time summarizing and quoting more extensively from police reports-including those memorializing Adams's own statements, interviews with victims and witnesses, and physical evidence-and describing in more detail the statements of confidential and jailhouse informants connecting Adams to the unsolved crimes. Most of the shootings stemmed from gang rivalries in Racine.

         As relevant here, Adams had been interviewed by police in connection with at least two of the shootings. In one interview he admitted to police that younger Vice Lords members looked up to him as a "shot caller." In the most recent interview, conducted after his arrest for the present offense, he was questioned about two of the shootings, both of which occurred earlier in September 2015. He told the police that he couldn't have been the shooter in either case because too few rounds had ...

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