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Media Alerts - United States v. Barnett/United States v. Williams -- Fourth Circuit
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November 8, 2016
  United States v. Barnett/United States v. Williams -- Fourth Circuit
Gang's "First Lady" Not Guilty by Association

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Evidence, Criminal Procedure

Issues Presented: Whether the government provided sufficient evidence to support the defendant's conviction for conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering activity. Whether the District Court improperly admitted lay witness testimony related to the meaning of slang words. Whether the District Court erroneously instructed the jury regarding the "pattern of racketeering activity" required for conspiracy to violate RICO. Whether the District Court improperly sentenced the defendant as a career offender in light of the Supreme Court's holding in Johnson v. United States,135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). Whether the government provided insufficient evidence to prove that a gang leader's girlfriend conspired to violate RICO.

Brief Summary: In an unpublished opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found no reversible error pertaining to Alan Barnett and affirmed his convictions and sentence. However, the Fourth Circuit concluded the government failed to provide sufficient evidence in Samantha Williams's case and reversed her conviction for conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act ("RICO").

Extended Summary: This case arose out of a 134-count indictment charging twenty-eight individuals involved with the United Blood Nation gang ("UBN"). Formed at Riker's Island Prison in New York City, UBN operates through a hierarchical structure and consists of several sub-groups along the East Coast. Alan "Big Al" Barnett and Samantha "Lady Sam" Williams were both affiliated with a UBN sub-group called Gangster Killer Bloods, commonly known as "G-Shine." Barnett was the second highest-ranking member of the G-Shine division in North Carolina. Williams was the girlfriend of G-Shine's leader, and hence the organization's "first lady," serving as the "mouthpiece" for the leader during his incarceration.

In a joint trial, the jury convicted both Barnett and Williams of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act ("RICO"). The jury also convicted Barnett of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering activity, two counts of conspiring to commit Hobbs Act robbery, conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, illegal use of a communication device, and distribution of cocaine. The United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina sentenced Barnett to 360 months in prison, and sentenced Williams to 72 months in prison.

On appeal, Williams challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting her RICO conspiracy conviction. To prove a RICO conspiracy, the government must show (1) that an enterprise affecting interstate commerce existed; (2) that the defendant knowingly and intentionally agreed with another person to participate in the enterprise's affairs; and (3) that the defendant knowingly and willfully agreed that she or another member would commit at least two racketeering acts. Rejecting the government's argument that Williams's role as "first lady" proved the second element, the Fourth Circuit held that it would not broaden RICO's scope to presume that any individual affiliated with a gang knows about and agrees to the commission of racketeering acts. The Fourth Circuit reversed Williams's conviction for RICO conspiracy for insufficiency of evidence.

Additionally, Barnett raised various challenges to his sentence and convictions for RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering activity, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected. Regarding his convictions, Barnett argued that (1) there was insufficient evidence to prove that Barnett conspired to murder another inmate for the purpose of maintaining or increasing his position in UBN; (2) the District Court erroneously admitted lay witness testimony related to the meaning of slang words; and (3) the District Court erroneously instructed the jury on the standard required for RICO conspiracy. The Fourth Circuit rejected each of Barnett's contentions.

Regarding his sentence, Barnett argued that the District Court improperly sentenced him as a career offender. Citing the Supreme Court's recent invalidation of the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), Barnett argued that the District Court improperly designated him as a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The Fourth Circuit held that any error was harmless, emphasizing that the District Court indicated that it would have issued a 360-month sentence without consideration of the sentencing guidelines. The Fourth Circuit therefore upheld Barnett's sentence and convictions.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Panel: Judges Agee and Wynn, and Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, sitting by designation

Argument Date: 03/24/2016

Date of Issued Opinion: 10/12/2016

Docket Numbers: 14-4866 and 14-4885

Decided: Affirmed in part and reversed in part by unpublished opinion

Case Alert Author: Linda Morris, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law
Counsel: Joshua B. Carpenter, FEDERAL DEFENDERS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA, INC., Asheville, North Carolina; Jeffrey William Gillette, GILLETTE LAW FIRM, PLLC, Franklin, North Carolina, for Appellants. Amy Elizabeth Ray, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Ross Hall Richardson, Executive Director, FEDERAL DEFENDERS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA, INC., Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellant Williams. Jill Westmoreland Rose, Acting United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Wynn

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 11/08/2016 09:47 AM     4th Circuit  

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