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United States v. Bryant

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 19, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES BRYANT, Defendant.

          ARTICULATION OF THE COURT'S RULING ON DEFENDANT'S TOTAL OFFENSE LEVEL AND CRIMINAL HISTORY CATEGORY

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         The Court sentenced Defendant James Bryant on December 19, 2018. In doing so, the Court considered Defendant's United States Sentencing Guidelines range, which is determined by his total offense level and his criminal history category (“CHC”). The parties disagree about Defendant's criminal history calculation. Defendant argues that his state court conviction and sentence for tampering with evidence-cleaning up evidence of the murder of Edward Brooks in the Miller house basement-is for conduct relevant to the instant offense and therefore is not a “prior sentence” which should be included in the criminal history calculation. The Government argues that Defendant's state court sentence is not related to Defendant's federal conviction and therefore should be included in his criminal history calculation. The Court agrees with Defendant for the reasons explained below.

         Background

         On July 23, 2015, James Bryant was indicted in this case for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(c) and 846. See [Dkt. 8 (Indictment)]. On March 21, 2016, Bryant pled guilty to that count. See [Dkt. 77 (Minute Entry for Change of Plea Hr'g); Dkt. 80 (Plea Agreement)].

         The presentence report (“PSR”) prepared by Probation in advance of Bryant's sentencing includes two sections under “The Offense Conduct, ” one addressing “The Homicide and Explosion” and the second addressing “The Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine Base.” [Dkt. 340 (Final PSR) at 5-10]. The Court finds that Bryant's conduct described in both sections is relevant to the crime Bryant is now being sentenced for and will succinctly describe the salient facts.

         On July 4, 2015, there was an explosion on Wintergreen Avenue in Hamden, Connecticut. Id. at ¶ 7. An investigation of the explosion uncovered that the explosion had impacted a body, that of Edward Brooks. Id. at ¶ 11. Prior to the explosion, Brooks had sustained three gunshot wounds. Id. at ¶ 9. Brooks's identity led investigators to his known associate, Christopher Miller, who resided at 59 Front Avenue, West Haven, Connecticut (the “Miller house”). Id. at ¶ 12. The police were familiar with the Miller house, as a confidential informant had made numerous cocaine base purchases there. Id. at ¶ 13.

         At the Miller house, investigators observed a car similar to the one described by witnesses at the scene of the explosion and further, upon execution of a search and seizure warrant, found bomb making and drug distribution materials. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14. The investigators also noted eight surveillance cameras on the property. Id. at ¶ 14-18. Footage from the surveillance camera capturing the internal staircase leading from the first floor to the basement showed Miller, Brooks, and Bryant walking down the stairs at the time stamped time of 4:11 a.m.[1] Id. at ¶ 19. Bryant returned upstairs at 4:12 a.m. along with Brooks, who shortly returned downstairs. Id. At 4:19 a.m. Brooks returns upstairs with Maurice Wearing at 4:19 a.m. Id. At this point, Miller can be seen standing at the bottom of the stairs rubbing his hands together before walking off camera. Id. Brooks returns downstairs and walks off camera at 4:21 a.m. Id. Brooks is not seen on camera again. Id. Miller is seen walking up the stairs at 4:26 a.m. carrying a firearm and a silencer. Id. The footage ends at 4:34 a.m. and picks up again at 12:06 p.m. Id. at ¶ 20.

         Miller was charged with and pled guilty in state court to the murder of Brooks, use of a firearm for a felony, and tampering with physical evidence related to the above facts. See Connecticut v. Miller, Dkt. No.:AAN-CR15-0089767-T. Miller pled guilty in federal court to the charge of possession of a firearm and explosive device in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. See United State v. Miller, No. 3:15-cr-00132 (VLB). In state court, Wearing has been charged with conspiracy to commit the murder of Brooks, hindering prosecution in the second degree, and tampering with physical evidence related to the above facts. See Connecticut v. Wearing, No. 07150039. Wearing pled guilty in federal court to the charge of possession of an explosive by a convicted felon. See United States v. Wearing, No. 3:15-cr-00132(VLB). Bryant entered an Alford plea in state court for tampering with physical evidence related to the above facts and was sentenced to 30 months in jail on June 5, 2018. See [Dkt. 340 at ¶ 59].

         After July 4, 2015, investigators interviewed witnesses with information regarding narcotics trafficking activities at the Miller house. Id. at ¶ 24. Police had a criminal informant who had been purchasing cocaine base from the Miller house for more than a year and who recorded a number of purchases from Miller out of the Miller house. Id. at ¶ 25. The criminal informant led investigators to determine that Wearing acted as Miller's drug supplier. Id. at ¶ 26. Text messages recovered from Miller's cell phone pursuant to a search warrant showed that Miller was in frequent contact with Wearing regarding the drug supply, that Miller's wife, Natali Martinez, and mother, Deborah Miller, were involved in the drug business, and that Miller would deploy Bryant and Brooks to deliver crack cocaine to customers. Id. at ¶ 29. The investigation revealed that Bryant was a member, together with the others mentioned, of the drug distribution conspiracy operated out of the Miller house and led by Christopher Miller from September 2014 to July 2015. Id. at ¶ 30.

         In federal court, Bryant was charged with conspiring with Miller and the others mentioned above to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), to which he pled guilty on March 21, 2016. Bryant is currently before the Court to be sentenced on that conviction.

         The Government's Sentencing Memorandum and Probation's Addendum to the PSR represent that Bryant's total offense level for this conviction is 25.[2] See [Dkt. 347 at 3-4; Dkt. 349 (Addendum to PSR) at 1-2]. They also suggest that his CHC is IV, taking into account the additional points for Bryant's 30-month state court sentence for tampering with physical evidence. See [Dkt. 347 at 4; Dkt. 340 at ¶¶ 60-61]. Defendant's Sentencing Memorandum argues that Bryant's CHC is III, because his sentence for tampering with physical evidence is for conduct relevant to the instant drug conspiracy offense and therefore cannot be included in the criminal history calculation. See [Dkt. 342 at 6-7].

         Analysis

         A defendant's CHC is calculated based on, inter alia, his prior sentences. See United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”) § 4A1.1. The term “prior sentence” here “means any sentence previously imposed . . . for conduct not part of the instant offense.” U.S.S.G. § 4A1.2(a)(1). “Conduct that is part of the instant offense means conduct that is relevant conduct to the instant offense under the provisions of § 1B1.3 (Relevant Conduct).” U.S.S.G. § 4A1.2 Application Note 1. Under § 1B1.3, relevant conduct includes “all acts and omissions committed, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, procured, or willfully caused by the defendant” “that were part of the same course of conduct or common scheme or plan as the offense of conviction.” U.S.S.G. § 1B1.2(a)(1)(A), (a)(2); see also United States v. Thomas, 54 F.3d 73, 83 (2d Cir. 1995). “Thus, a sentence imposed for conduct that was part of the same course of conduct as the offense of conviction is not a ‘prior sentence' within the meaning of Section 4A1.1.” United States v. Brennan, 395 F.3d 59, 70 (2d Cir. 2005).

         In the Second Circuit, “[a]cts may be found to be part of the ‘same course of conduct' if the defendant engaged in a repeated pattern of similar criminal acts, even if they were not performed pursuant to a single scheme or plan.” Thomas, 54 F.3d at 84; see also United States v. Perdomo, 927 F.2d 111, 115 (2d Cir. 1991) (“The ‘same course of conduct' concept . . . looks to whether the defendant repeats the same type of criminal activity ...


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