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United States v. Scott

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 15, 2018

KARL DOUGLAS SCOTT, also known as Fresh, also known as KD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

          Before SMITH, WIENER, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.


         This case involves two failed attempts to transport marijuana[1] into the United States. Karl Scott first recruited Brittini Randle to sneak marijuana across the border from Mexico. Randle was arrested. Undeterred, Scott then enlisted Mark Cane, who fared no better. Same plan. Same checkpoint. Same result.

         A jury convicted Scott of (1) conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute, and (2) aiding and abetting the possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. On appeal, Scott argues that the evidence was insufficient to support either conviction because he never exercised any dominion or control over the marijuana.

         Scott's argument-no possession, no conviction-is uncomplicated. But it is also unavailing. Put bluntly, possession is not nine-tenths of the law.

         We affirm.

         I. Background

         A. Brittini Randle & the July 8 Run

         Randle met Scott in early 2014. Scott was a barber, and Randle was interested in becoming a hairdresser. Their friendship blossomed into a relationship. At some point, Scott asked Randle if she "knew anybody who would want to make a run." And by "run, " he meant transport drugs across the border. After telling her that a driver would make about $1, 500 or more, Randle volunteered. But Scott suggested that "it would look better if it was you and another person." So Randle asked her childhood friend, Heleniah Adams, to accompany her. The three then met in person to hash out the details.

         About a week later, Randle and Adams met Scott at a gas station in Beaumont, Texas, where Scott bought them gas. Randle and Adams followed Scott to Houston where Scott picked up his uncle, Chris. The group then drove to Edmond Hadnot's house in Corpus Christi. Scott explained to Randle that Chris was supposed to drive an 18-wheeler. If they could fit all the drugs in the truck, Randle would not have to drive, but she would still get paid.

         Hadnot, Scott, Chris, Adams, and Randle then put their plan into action. They drove to the Rio Grande Valley; Scott drove Hadnot and Chris in his car, and Randle took Adams in her car. The group enjoyed a night on the town, drinking first at a Buffalo Wild Wings and later, at a local strip club. They then stayed overnight in McAllen, where Scott, Adams, and Randle shared a hotel room.

         The next morning, Hadnot called an audible. He told Randle that she would drive alone while Adams drove separately. Randle followed Hadnot and another man to a gas station, while Scott and Adams remained at the hotel. Hadnot and the man left Randle at the gas station, taking her car.

         About an hour and a half later, Hadnot called Randle and told her to get into a different car with a different man. The man drove Randle to a residential neighborhood where she found her car waiting for her.

         Hadnot called Randle and told her to follow him. Initially, Scott, Hadnot, Adams, and Randle had developed a cover story: Randle and Adams worked as exotic dancers who were "constantly traveling." But as the plan changed, so did the cover story. Randle was now a medical student. As such, Hadnot led Randle to Scrub Mart, purchased scrubs and a stethoscope, and instructed Randle to change. Randle did so and headed toward the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint.

         As Randle drove north, the plan went south. While smoking a cigarette, Randle tried to roll down her front windows. But only the driver-side window worked. Randle became anxious. She was told that the marijuana would be concealed in her gas tank, but Randle now suspected it was in her door. Seeking reassurance, Randle exchanged multiple calls with both Hadnot and Scott. Scott told her to calm down, not to worry, and that it was okay. Randle hung up on Scott as she approached the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint.

         Randle drove her car into the primary lane where a canine performed a free-air sniff and alerted. Based on the alert, a Border Patrol agent directed Randle to secondary inspection. The agent x-rayed the vehicle and detected three anomalies. Further search revealed bundles of marijuana in the car's doors and trunk. Ultimately, agents removed 62 bundles of marijuana from Randle's car with a net weight of 45.35 kilograms-nearly 100 pounds. Randle was arrested.

         Randle initially followed the plan-that is to say, she lied. But she soon relented and told the Border Patrol agents "everything." After cooperating with the agents, Randle was released. She then called Scott who sent Hadnot's girlfriend to pick her up. Hadnot's girlfriend took Randle to Hadnot's house, and Scott and Adams met Randle in Scott's car. Once again, Randle lied. She told Scott and Adams she told the Border Patrol that she didn't know anything about the drugs. Scott then drove Adams and Randle back to Beaumont.

         B. Mark Cane & the August 22 Run

         Scott still had high hopes. A few months later, a mutual friend put Scott in touch with Mark Cane. The friend knew that Cane had a commercial driver's license (CDL) and that Scott wanted to transport marijuana using someone's CDL. Cane called Scott and arranged a meeting. Scott offered Cane $5, 000, or alternatively ten pounds of marijuana, to transport 200 pounds of marijuana from the Rio Grande Valley through a border checkpoint. Cane hesitantly agreed.

         Cane knew about Scott's drug-run history-specifically, Randle's "busted" smuggling attempt. Cane wanted to avoid Randle's fate. Scott gave Cane the same advice he gave Randle: If he was caught with the 200 pounds of marijuana at the check point, he should "play dumb, " act like he didn't know it was in the truck, and they would let him go. But Cane was still unsure about whether he wanted to make the run. Scott knew Adams and Cane were good friends, so he asked Cane if he would like Adams to join him. Cane accepted, but he was still hesitant.

         Once Cane was on board, Scott picked him up at his apartment in Beaumont. The pair traveled to Houston, picked up Adams, and headed to Hadnot's house in Corpus Christi. Cane was still uneasy-he peppered Scott and Adams with questions on the drive. He asked about the checkpoint and Randle's failed attempt. Scott and Adams told Cane to relax. They explained that Randle "played like she didn't know nothing about [the marijuana] and . . . they let her go." They assured Cane that if he did the same, he too would be released.

         At Hadnot's house, Hadnot, Adams, and Scott advised Cane about the specifics of the job and discussed previous runs. Hadnot told Cane that the truck he would drive had a secret compartment to store the marijuana. Hadnot and Scott also provided a cover story: Cane was picking up a one-time load from Corpus Christi to drop off in McAllen.

         The next day, Scott drove Hadnot, Adams, and Cane to McAllen. On the way, they stopped at a Wal-Mart where Scott gave Cane money to buy a logbook, snacks, and a cooler to stage in Cane's 18-wheeler. Hadnot and Cane then left in Scott's car to pick up the 18-wheeler. Meanwhile, Scott and Adams waited for Hadnot and Cane at a Burger King.

         Hadnot and Cane met two "Spanish guys" in a residential neighborhood to pick up the truck already loaded with marijuana. Hadnot gave Cane money for gas, and Cane followed Hadnot to a gas station. As Cane filled up, Hadnot left to pick up Adams and Scott.

         Once Hadnot returned, Cane followed Scott's car, driven by Hadnot, onto the highway. Cane ended up following the wrong car, and he lost sight of Hadnot. Scott called Cane to redirect him. In fact, Scott talked to Cane multiple times before the checkpoint.

         Eventually, Cane reached the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint. Hadnot drove Scott's car through the checkpoint, and Cane drove the truck to the primary inspection lane. Once Cane stopped, an agent conducted a free-air sniff with his canine-and the predictable happened. Once again, the canine alerted, and the agent referred Cane to secondary inspection. Agents searched the truck and found marijuana "in plain sight." All told, agents found 29 bundles of marijuana with a net weight of 175.46 kilograms[2]-nearly 550 pounds. Cane tried to "play dumb like [Scott and Adams] told [him], " but to no avail-like Randle, he was arrested.

         The joint conspiracy had failed.

         C. ...

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