7th Circuit finds felon-in-possession convictions to be multiplicitous

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Two felon-in-possession convictions were multiplicitous, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, but a defendant’s other challenges to his drug-related convictions and sentence failed.

The case of United States of America v. Arthur Miles, 22-2805, began in 2019, when Indianapolis-based law enforcement officers were investigating Christopher Deeren for suspected drug trafficking. The officers used a confidential source to perform and surveil two controlled methamphetamine buys from Deeren.

During both purchases, the CS met Deeren at a gas station, got into a car with him and headed to a house. The CS would hand Deeren cash, and Deeren would then go inside the house and return with meth.

The officers believed Deeren’s supplier was at the house. They thus obtained a search warrant for the house and also set up surveillance around the property.

During surveillance, officers observed Arthur Miles using a key to enter the house. After Deeren and the CS arrived at the house, Deeren and Miles began talking on the front porch.

The officers then arrested both Miles and Deeren and executed the search warrant.

After Miles waived his Miranda rights, he admitted to living at the house and owning two vehicles there. The two cars were different than those used during the controlled buys.

The officers discovered 107.3 grams of pure meth inside Miles’ Honda Odyssey. Inside the house, they found 160.5 grams of pure meth, 124 grams of a mixture containing cocaine, two rifles and various drug distribution paraphernalia.

Miles was indicted for possession with intent to distribute meth, possession with intent to distribute a mixture containing cocaine and knowing possession of two firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

He filed two motions to suppress the evidence recovered during the search, claiming the search warrant did not establish probable cause and was not sufficiently particular. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied both motions.

Miles was then convicted by a jury on all four counts and was sentenced to an aggregate of 20 years.

He appealed, first arguing that his felon-in-possession convictions are multiplicitous. The government conceded that issue.

While the 7th Circuit found that remand was necessary on that issue, it declined to order a full resentencing. Instead, it remanded with instructions to vacate one of Miles’ sentences under Section 922(g) and to merge his two convictions under that sentence.

Miles next argued that both of his Section 922(g)(1) convictions should be vacated as a violation of the Second Amendment. He cited N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022).

However, “Since the Seventh Circuit has not yet ruled on § 922(g)(1)’s constitutionality after Bruen, the law is unsettled,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote. “… That ends Miles’s challenge.”

Next, Miles challenged the district court’s denials of his suppression motions.

“The facts described in the search warrant application create a reasonable inference that Deeren obtained drugs from the house,” Flaum wrote in rejecting that argument. “In two separate controlled buys, Deeren gave the CS meth immediately after exiting the residence and returning to a vehicle. This ‘allow[s] for a reasonable inference that there is a fair probability that evidence’ of drug trafficking would be found in the residence.”

Miles also argued that the search warrant was too broad because it covered any vehicles at the house, thus violating the Fourth Amendment.

But here, “officers could not have describe the vehicles with more particularity because they were unable to identify that residence’s owner and observed Deeren using different vehicles to facilitate the two controlled buys.”

“… Second, because Deeren handed the CS meth immediately after exiting the house in both controlled buys, the officers reasonably believed that the residence’s owner was Deeren’s meth source,” Flaum wrote. “On these facts, it is reasonable to infer that there was a fair probability that evidence of drug trafficking would be found in any car on the Brouse Avenue residence.”

Lastly, Miles challenged his sentence, arguing that it is substantively unreasonable because it is “greater than necessary.”

The 7th Circuit also rejected that argument.

“At bottom, Miles has not rebutted the presumptive reasonableness of his sentence,” Flaum wrote. “As a result, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in fashioning Miles’s sentence.”

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