In United States v. Clark, No. 20-10672 (Apr. 28, 2022) (Jordan, Jill Pryor, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed Mr. Clark’s convictions and sentence.
Mr. Clark was convicted of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. After a jury trial, he was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment.
Mr. Clark raised five issues on appeal. First, he argued that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a new trial based on the government’s post-trial disclosure of Brady material about a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who had been internally disciplined for destroying evidence in a previous case involving an individual charged with distributing narcotics and being a felon in possession of a firearm (as a result of this agent’s misconduct, one of the United States Attorney’s Offices refused to accept future cases from him). At Mr. Clark’s trial, this special agent testified as an expert witness about the interstate nexus and gun identification. The Court found no abuse of discretion because Mr. Clark received a fair trial with a “verdict worthy of confidence,” even without the disclosure of Brady material.
Second, Mr. Clark argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of a traffic stop and subsequent arrest. Mr. Clark maintained that officers did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a traffic stop in the first place, and no probable cause to search his car. The officer who pulled over Mr. Clark consistently testified that he did so because Mr. Clark’s car was weaving in and out of lanes, but he could not remember the details. The Court noted that officers need not have perfect memory as to why they stopped an individual in order for probable cause to be found. Additionally, the Court also found that officers had probable cause to arrest Mr. Clark, and, therefore, search him and his car incident to arrest.
Third, Mr. Clark argued that the district court failed to specifically instruct the jury to apply the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard to the special verdict question of weight of methamphetamines discovered. If the jury found that the weight was above 5 grams, that finding would raise the mandatory minimum to 5 years and the statutory maximum to 40 years. Reviewing for plain error, the Court found that the district court erred, but found itself “powerless” to correct the error because Mr. Clark invited the error by affirmatively accepting the special verdict question. The Court also noted that such an error–an Alleyne error–is not structural error, and noted that even if it were structural, the law is mixed on how a structural error interacts with the invited-error doctrine.
Fourth, Mr. Clark argued that the district court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence of all eight of Mr. Clark’s prior felony convictions, including a probation order that surveyed his lengthy arrest record, with regard to the felon-in-possession count. He also argued that the records should have been redacted and that a limiting instruction should have been given. The Court noted that since, post-Rehaif, the government must now prove that an individual knew he was a felon when he possessed the firearm, and Mr. Clark did not stipulate to his status as a convicted felon, the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the government to admit all eight convictions as to that element. The Court refused to establish a brightline rule that would limit the number of convictions the government could introduce, noting that the number likely depended on the circumstances of each case. The Court reviewed Mr. Clark’s other contention–that the records should have been redacted and a limiting instruction given–for plain error, and found none. The Court noted that though the arrest records had zero bearing on the knowledge element, the district court was under no affirmative obligation to sua sponte exclude them.
Finally, Mr. Clark argued that the cumulative effect of the errors in his trial warranted reversal. The Court disagreed.