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United States of America v. Ambrose Rayshawn Spires

January 12, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
AMBROSE RAYSHAWN SPIRES, ALSO KNOWN AS AMBROSE SPRIES, APPELLANT.



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

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

Submitted: September 21, 2010

Before BYE, BEAM, and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

A jury found Ambrose Rayshawn Spires, also known as Ambrose Spries, guilty of possession with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of cocaine base ("crack"), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A), and conspiracy to distribute 50 or more grams of crack, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A). The jury found Spires not guilty of possession of a firearm in furtherance of the above drug trafficking crimes, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Based on Spires's two prior felony drug offenses, the district court*fn1 sentenced Spires to a mandatory term of life imprisonment pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Spires appeals his conviction, arguing that the district court erred in admitting certain evidence and in incorrectly instructing the jury. Spires also appeals his sentence, arguing that his life sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and that the district court erred in denying his motion to continue the sentencing in light of pending legislation concerning the disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In early November 2008, officers of the Davenport Police Department stopped Andromeda Williams while she was attempting to sell crack. Williams agreed to cooperate as a confidential informant and to participate in a controlled buy of crack cocaine from her supplier, defendant Spires. On November 13, 2008, police outfitted Williams with an audio-video recording device and she called Spires to purchase crack. During the call, Spires told Williams that he just left his apartment but that she could meet with Rayshawn "Eazy" Gartley at the apartment and "he'll take care of you." Williams went to Spires's apartment, knocked on the door, and Gartley answered. Williams told Gartley about her conversation with Spires, Gartley called Spires to verify the deal, and then Gartley gave Williams six rocks of crack for $100.

Several hours later, officers executed a search warrant on Spires's apartment. In the apartment, officers found Spires, alone, along with (1) 189 grams of crack worth approximately $36,900; (2) sandwich bags; (3) two digital scales with suspected crack residue on them; (4) four razor blades with suspected crack residue on them; (5) $633 inside a duffel bag and $236 on Spires's person; (6) a jacket containing Spires's driver's license, his car keys, and a key to the apartment; (7) five cellular phones, including the phone Williams called to set up the controlled buy; and (8) two loaded handguns.*fn2 In Spires's car, officers found a Western Union receipt showing that Spires sent $700 from Davenport to Aaron Taylor in Chicago, Illinois, on the day of the search. Based on this evidence, Spires was arrested and subsequently charged with drug trafficking and firearms offenses. A three-day jury trial commenced in federal district court on July 13, 2009.

At trial, numerous witnesses testified about the details of Spires's large-scale crack distribution operation in Davenport. Williams, Gloria Barnum, William Morgan, and Laverne Greer all testified that between the summer and fall of 2008, they repeatedly sold crack for Spires in exchange for cash and/or crack for their own use. Barnum testified that on one occasion when she picked up crack from Spires's apartment, she witnessed Spires in possession of a "whole bunch" of powder cocaine that he was cooking on the stove to make crack. When Spires was finished cooking the crack, Barnum witnessed him cut the drug into pieces with a razor, put it on a scale, and wrap the finished product in sandwich bags. Williams similarly testified that she visited Spires in a hotel room and witnessed him placing "a lot of crack" in sandwich bags.

Emmiet Webb, who possessed a key to Spires's apartment, testified that in 2008 he met Spires and Aaron Taylor in the Davenport area. Webb explained that he agreed to sell crack with Spires and that Taylor and Spires were also associates in the drug trade. He testified that Spires traveled to Chicago every two or three days to obtain at least four ounces of crack from his source, Eugene "Manky" Clay, to sell in the Davenport area. Webb explained that when Spires was in Chicago, Spires would leave Taylor his leftover crack to sell to clients on his behalf. Williams similarly testified that Spires would leave her, Taylor, Gartley, Greer, or Barnum his cellular phone and leftover crack to sell to customers in his stead.

Sergeant Smull of the Davenport Police Department testified regarding the significance of the items found in Spires's apartment. Specifically, he testified that, based upon the large quantity of crack in Spires's apartment, the drugs were "clearly [for] distribution." He also explained that the presence of multiple cellular phones, digital scales, sandwich bags, and razor blades was indicative of crack distribution.

Finally, Detective Proehl of the Davenport Police Department testified that he used contact lists in cellular phones seized during the investigation of Spires and his associates to attribute phone numbers to Spires, Taylor, Webb, Barnum, Greer, Morgan, Williams, and Clay. Over Spires's objection, the district court admitted into evidence the call records of three phones seized from Spires's apartment--two of which Detective Proehl attributed to Spires, and one of which he attributed to Taylor. Detective Proehl testified that he analyzed the call records by tabulating the number of calls made between the phone numbers attributed to Spires and Taylor, and the phone numbers attributed to their associates. He then created charts summarizing his tabulations that were, over Spires's objection, also admitted into evidence.

The jury found Spires guilty of possession with intent to distribute and conspiracy to distribute 50 or more grams of crack, but, as earlier indicated, found Spires not guilty of two firearms offenses. The district court then sentenced Spires to a mandatory term of life imprisonment. Spires appeals.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Phone Record ...


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