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United States v. Valbrun

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JEAN TONY VALBRUN, Defendant, Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAINE [Hon. Jon D. Levy, U.S. District Judge]

          Leslie Feldman-Rumpler on brief for appellant.

          Richard W. Murphy, Acting United States Attorney, and Renée M. Bunker, Assistant United States Attorney, Appellate Chief, on brief for appellee.

          Before Barron, Selya and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, Circuit Judge.

         Following his conviction for a drug-trafficking offense, defendant-appellant Jean Tony Valbrun assigns error to certain of the district court's evidentiary rulings and to a jury instruction. Finding his asseverational array unpersuasive, we affirm his conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case is one of several arising out of the activities of a sprawling drug-distribution ring operating in Maine. As such, it implicates one of many spokes radiating from the hub of a conspiratorial wheel. We briefly rehearse the relevant facts and travel of the case, directing readers who hunger for more exegetic details about the drug-distribution ring to consult our opinion in United States v. Gordon, 871 F.3d 35, 40-42 (1st Cir. 2017).

         In 2014, Joey Brown, an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), led an investigation into the activities of Jacques Victor, the suspected kingpin of a drug-distribution ring. During this investigation, the DEA received judicial authorization to intercept calls and text messages to and from a number of telephones, including Victor's cellphone. See id. at 41-42; see also 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2522. Through these intercepts, the DEA learned that Victor was plotting with Alcindy Jean-Baptiste, Jonathan Duffaud, and the appellant to obtain drugs in Massachusetts and transport them to Maine.

         When the plot matured, the authorities were ready: the appellant was arrested while driving a rental vehicle en route from Massachusetts to Maine. Concealed within the vehicle were 225 net grams of heroin and 106.2 net grams of cocaine base (crack cocaine).

         In due course, the appellant and eleven other persons were indicted on charges associated with the activities of the drug ring. The appellant was, however, tried separately, on charges of knowingly possessing with intent to distribute heroin and crack cocaine, see 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and of aiding and abetting the same, see 18 U.S.C. § 2(a). At trial, the government introduced thirteen recorded calls derived from the wiretap on Victor's cellphone. Victor (who had participated in each of the thirteen calls) testified about these conversations, identifying specific voices and explaining jargon and other phrases of uncertain meaning. The appellant's principal defense was that he did not know that the rental vehicle contained controlled substances.

         At the conclusion of the trial, the district court instructed the jury on, inter alia, the doctrine of willful blindness. The jury found the appellant guilty as charged. The court subsequently sentenced him to an incarcerative term of twenty-eight months. This timely appeal ensued.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The appellant assigns error in two respects. First, he contends that the district court erred in allowing parts of Victor's testimony about the intercepted calls. Second, he contends that the court erred in instructing the ...


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