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United States v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 7, 2015

United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Lawrence Edward Williams, Defendant - Appellant

Submitted June 11, 2015

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Allison Hart Behrens, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Thomas Joseph Mehan, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri, Saint Louis, MO.

For Lawrence Edward Williams, Defendant - Appellant: Thomas Patrick Deaton Jr., Saint Louis, MO.

Lawrence Edward Williams, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Leavenworth, KS.

Before GRUENDER, BEAM, and BENTON, Circuit Judges. BEAM, Circuit Judge, concurring in the judgment.

OPINION

GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

Lawrence Williams was indicted for possessing a firearm as a felon. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). A jury found Williams guilty, and the district court[1] sentenced him to 66 months' imprisonment. Williams appeals his conviction. We affirm.

I.

On January 26, 2013, Officer Jennifer Hendricks of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was driving her patrol car when its license plate recognition (" LPR" ) system gave an alert about a nearby car. The LPR system scans the license plates of cars that are within range of cameras mounted on the patrol car and can generate an alert if a scanned car is connected to a wanted person.

The alert showed Officer Hendricks that a man named Otis Hicks was associated with a nearby car and was wanted by the St. Louis County Police Department, a department that neighbors Hendricks's, for first-degree domestic assault. The alert also said that Hicks may be armed and dangerous. The LPR alert did not explain how or when Hicks was associated with the car.

After pulling the car over, Officer Hendricks approached the driver's side and saw two men inside. She asked the driver for his license, which identified him as Otis Hicks. Officer Hendricks then waited for a second police officer to arrive. Upon arrival, Officer David Christensen asked the passenger, Williams, to get out of the car and present identification. According to Officer Christensen, Williams patted his waistband two times while getting out of the car and Williams's hands were shaking uncontrollably as he retrieved his identification. Officer Christensen handcuffed Williams and conducted a pat-down search for weapons. Officer Christensen felt what he recognized to be a firearm and removed a handgun from Williams's waistband. After finding the handgun, Officer Christensen found a bag containing " a dark rock-like substance" in Williams's pocket that was later identified as heroin.

A federal grand jury indicted Lawrence Williams for one count of possessing a firearm as a felon. Before trial, Williams moved to suppress the handgun and heroin. A magistrate judge[2] held an evidentiary hearing and heard testimony from Officers Hendricks and Christensen. The magistrate judge recommended the denial of Williams's motions. The district court adopted the magistrate judge's relevant proposed factual findings and rulings.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), the Government notified Williams that it would introduce his prior firearm-possession convictions at trial. Williams submitted two motions in limine that sought to exclude his 2002 conviction for possessing a firearm as a felon, his 1995 conviction for unlawful possession of a concealable firearm and unlawful use of a firearm, and his earlier conviction of first-degree robbery. Williams also moved to exclude the heroin. The district court denied Williams's motions to exclude the heroin and the 2002 and 1995 convictions. However, the court excluded the earlier robbery conviction because of, among other reasons, " the age, when it was completed, the similarity of the offenses, and the fact that we will already have two others that will be introduced into evidence."

At trial, Williams's counsel attempted to cross-examine Officer Hendricks about her motivation for testifying that Williams had actual possession of the handgun. After Williams's counsel asked Officer Hendricks if she had been frustrated with prosecutors' past decisions regarding whether to bring firearm charges, the Government objected, and the following colloquy took place at sidebar:

Counsel: Judge, it's my good faith belief that the police officers in the city of St. Louis sometimes decide to charge somebody with a gun that they found in the car even though the gun was not found on the person, and that the person that they ...

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