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Courtney H. Johnson v. United States

March 22, 2012


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-5438-04) (Hon. Rafael Diaz, Motions Judge) (Hon. Jeanette J. Clark, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge, Retired:

Argued November 12, 2009

Before THOMPSON, Associate Judge, RUIZ, Associate, Retired,*fn1 and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

Courtney Johnson was convicted in a bench trial of misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana, in violation of D.C. Code § 48-904.01 (a)(2)(B), after two juries failed to reach a verdict on a felony charge based on the same evidence. He claims on appeal 1) that law-enforcement officials lacked probable cause to arrest him when they made a "controlled delivery" to him of a package they knew contained drugs and, therefore, the search of his car and seizure of evidence that occurred incident to that arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights; 2) that a post-arrest statement he made on the scene was procured in violation of his Miranda rights; and 3) that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because the government's evidence was insufficient to prove that he possessed and intended to distribute drugs. We conclude that none of Johnson's claims of error requires reversal of his convictions, which we therefore affirm.

I. Statement of Facts

On August 19, 2004, an analyst with the United States Postal Service was "profiling" parcels in a facility near the Los Angeles, California, airport, when he discovered a parcel that contained approximately 3,000 grams of marijuana. Less than a week later, on August 25, the same postal inspector noticed a parcel with a return address identical to the one that was listed on the parcel recovered on August 19. Inspector King, another postal inspector, found that the return address on the second parcel was valid, but that the sender's listed name, "John Johnson," was "fictitious." Law-enforcement officers determined that the individual who mailed the two parcels was Ricardo Austin.

After a police dog, "Arco," gave the second parcel a "positive hit," the postal inspectors obtained a warrant to open it. They found two packages inside the parcel, one weighing approximately 5 pounds and the other weighing 11 pounds, of a substance that field-tested positive for marijuana. The packages were wrapped in Saran Wrap and dryer sheets, in an apparent attempt to mask the odor of the drugs. Law-enforcement officers removed the 5-pound package, but shipped the 11-pound package in the original parcel to a federal facility in Maryland. The net weight of the marijuana was approximately 4,797 grams.

Postal inspectors informed Detective Zerega of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department that the parcel was addressed to "Corey Johnson" at 4604 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C., and that while the address was valid, no one named "Corey Johnson" was known to be associated with that address. Officers obtained a court order to install a device in the package that would notify officials if the parcel was opened. Law-enforcement officers then obtained an anticipatory search warrant for the Nannie Helen Burroughs address and decided to conduct a controlled delivery of the package.

At approximately noon on August 27, 2004, Inspector Green, disguised as a U.S. Postal Service courier, parked a delivery van in front of the Nannie Helen Burroughs address.

Other officers were arrayed around the house, out of sight. Inspector Green approached the house, with the parcel in hand, and knocked on the door. Johnson, wearing only his underwear, answered. Green and appellant differ as to what happened next.

According to Inspector Green, when he asked appellant if he was "Corey Johnson," appellant "nodded his head . . . gesturing that he was." Green then told Johnson to "take care of your business," indicating that Johnson should get dressed. Appellant shut the door, dressed, and returned to the front door. Green testified that when appellant came back out, he repeated the question, whether he was "Corey Johnson," and appellant again indicated that he was. Green then asked appellant to sign and print his name on a delivery-confirmation form. Appellant signed and printed his name as "Corey Johnson."

According to appellant, when the postal courier (Inspector Green) first asked him if he was "Corey Johnson," appellant responded: "I'm not; my name is Courtney Johnson." Appellant testified that Green then said, "They could have made a mistake." Once he returned to the door after having dressed, appellant repeated, "I need to show you my I.D. [because] that's not me. My name is Courtney Johnson." Appellant testified that he also told Green that he did not expect anything to be delivered to him that morning. Green, with a "grin on his face," told him, "You can go ahead and sign." Appellant explained that Green did not want to see his I.D. and that because Green was "kind of being persistent," appellant signed his initials, "C.J.," which "represent[ed] 'Courtney Johnson.'" According to appellant, he told Green that "[t]his is kind of weird," referring to how he was being "coerced" to sign the document.

After the inspector left, appellant felt "real leery about the whole situation," and decided to call Sergeant Shields, an acquaintance of his who was in law enforcement.*fn2 According to appellant, he decided to take the package to a nearby post office to return it. Ten to fifteen minutes after the package had been delivered, he came out of the front door of the house with the parcel in his hand and walked toward his car, which was parked in the driveway. He put the package in the car on the front passenger seat and, as he attempted to enter the driver's side, officers tackled him to the ground and handcuffed him.

Inspector Green returned and identified appellant as the person who had received the package and said that he was "Corey Johnson." Officers then searched the car, where they found the unopened parcel, as well as several documents in the front passenger side of the car and in the glove compartment. The documents included "personal papers with [appellant's] name"; a PEPCO bill; a T-Mobile phone bill that matched the number for the cell phone recovered from appellant; and a notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles with the name "Constance Christian,"*fn3 addressed to the Nannie Helen Burroughs address and, in handwriting, "Corey Johnson."

Approximately ten minutes after officers seized and handcuffed appellant, Detective Zerega placed him in the back seat of the detective's SUV. According to Zerega, appellant was asked for "preliminary information . . . [like] his name and address so that [they could] complete [their] sheets." Appellant was not asked about the package they had recovered from the car. Appellant inquired what he was being arrested for, and an officer told him that it was "for the package." According to Officer McFadden, appellant then "spontaneously" said, "[I]t's nothing but crushed cookies and medication; go ahead and test it." Appellant was told, "[Y]ou know we're going to talk about the incident and everything when we get down to the precinct." Appellant denied that he had said anything about what was in the package, only that he was on his way to return it to the post office. Appellant was taken to the police station where an officer read him his Miranda rights, which he waived. At the station, appellant stated that the parcel was not his and that he was "Courtney," not "Corey," Johnson.

Following appellant's arrest, officers searched the house where they had made the controlled delivery, with the consent of the owner, but did not find anything incriminating. The cell phone recovered from appellant indicated that calls were made from the phone to numbers in the state of California, but no connection was made between these numbers and any California phone numbers known to be used in drug ...

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