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United States v. Pridgeon

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 12, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
PAUL KENNETH PRIDGEON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court No. 4:15-cr-00024-RH-CAS-1 for the Northern District of Florida

          Before TJOFLAT, HULL, and O'MALLEY [*] , Circuit Judges.

          HULL, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant Paul Pridgeon appeals his sentence totaling eighty-four months' imprisonment. A jury convicted Pridgeon of one count of possession with intent to distribute five grams or more methamphetamine and one count of distribution of methamphetamine. On appeal, Pridgeon contends that the district court erred in sentencing him as a career offender under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. After careful review and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm Pridgeon's sentence.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts Underlying Pridgeon's Convictions

         In the early morning hours of March 1, 2015, around four-thirty or five o'clock, defendant Pridgeon called his neighbor, Jessie Boyington. During that call, Pridgeon asked Boyington for help, telling Boyington that someone assaulted him. Boyington went to Pridgeon's trailer home, where he found Pridgeon badly beaten. Pridgeon asked Boyington to drive him to the hospital, but Boyington called emergency services instead.

         After Boyington called for an ambulance, defendant Pridgeon walked out of his trailer with something in his hand. Pridgeon asked Boyington to "put something up for him, " but Boyington refused. Boyington then watched Pridgeon walk toward a toolbox sitting on the ground outside the trailer. Boyington stayed with Pridgeon until an ambulance arrived.

         Around six o'clock that same morning, before the ambulance took Pridgeon away, Deputy Joseph Clement of the Taylor County Sheriff's Office arrived at Pridgeon's home. Upon arrival, Deputy Clement spoke briefly with Pridgeon about the assault. Deputy Clement then spoke with Boyington, who pointed out Pridgeon's toolbox. Deputy Clement inspected the area around the toolbox and found a bag containing two pill bottles and an electronic scale. According to Deputy Clement, one of the pill bottles contained a substance that appeared to be crystal methamphetamine and the other contained what appeared to be marijuana. With the help of other investigators, Deputy Clement then secured and processed the scene around Pridgeon's home.

         Later on the morning of March 1, 2015, Investigator Rusty Davis, also of the Taylor County Sheriff's Office, interviewed Pridgeon at Doctor's Memorial Hospital in Taylor County. At this initial interview, Pridgeon told Davis that he was with an individual named Pamela Painter just before the assault. Pridgeon also told Davis that, around two o'clock in the morning, while Pamela Painter was with him, he walked out of his trailer and was beaten by an unknown man wielding a crowbar. At trial, Davis testified that Pridgeon was "evasive" about why Pamela Painter was at his trailer at that time of night. Davis further testified that he knew Pamela Painter was married to an individual named Billy Painter and that he suspected the incident was related to a drug deal.

         On March 2, 2015, after defendant Pridgeon was transported to a different hospital in Tallahassee, Davis met with Pridgeon for a second interview. This time, Davis was accompanied by two other investigators, one of whom recorded the conversation. At trial, the prosecution played the recording for the jury. Davis testified that Pridgeon spoke to him voluntarily and was aware that the conversation was being recorded.

         During this March 2, 2015 interview, Pridgeon admitted to investigators that he tried to hide drugs while Boyington was at his trailer the morning of the assault. The majority of the conversation, however, focused on who may have attacked Pridgeon and what may have motivated the attacker. At one point during the conversation, Davis asked Pridgeon whether the assault could have been part of an effort to rob Pridgeon during a drug deal.

         To determine whether defendant Pridgeon was trafficking in narcotics, Davis and other law enforcement officers developed a confidential source to help them conduct a controlled purchase of methamphetamine from Pridgeon. Before the controlled purchase, investigators recorded a phone conversation in which the confidential source agreed to buy two grams of methamphetamine from Pridgeon.

         On May 18, 2015, while law enforcement surveilled and recorded the meeting, the confidential source met with and purchased approximately two grams of methamphetamine from Pridgeon. During the controlled purchase, Pridgeon asked the confidential source whether he would be willing to help him sell drugs, but the confidential source declined. After leaving the meeting with Pridgeon, the confidential source turned the narcotics over to the investigators. The investigators then sent the methamphetamine-both the amount seized from Pridgeon's residence after the assault and the amount recovered from the controlled purchase-to a lab for chemical analysis. Based on the average purity of drugs involved in this type of transaction and the quantities recovered from Pridgeon, the chemist determined that, in total, the drugs contained over seventeen grams of pure methamphetamine.

         On July 7, 2015, a grand jury indicted defendant Pridgeon on one count of possessing with intent to distribute five grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(B)(viii), and one count of distribution of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(C). Pridgeon pled not guilty and proceeded to trial before a jury on September 14 and 15, 2015. At the close of the government's case, Pridgeon declined to testify and the defense rested without presenting evidence. On September 15, 2015, the jury found Pridgeon guilty on both counts in the indictment.

          C. Sentencing

         In advance of Pridgeon's sentencing, the probation officer prepared a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR"). Applying the 2014 Sentencing Guidelines, the PSR indicated a base offense level of twenty-six and criminal history score of nine, yielding a criminal history category of IV. Without a career offender increase, Pridgeon's guidelines range was 92 to 115 months' imprisonment. U.S.S.G. ch. 5, pt. A (U.S. Sentencing Comm'n 2014).

         The PSR indicated, however, that Pridgeon previously was convicted of several Florida felony offenses. In 1997, Pridgeon was convicted of resisting an officer with violence. And in 2006, Pridgeon was convicted of sale or delivery of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, in violation of § 893.13 of the Florida Statutes. Based on these convictions and the other relevant factors, the PSR applied the career offender increase to Pridgeon's guidelines range calculation. U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. With the career offender increase, Pridgeon's offense level was thirty-four and his criminal history category was VI. Id. § 4B1.1(b). This resulted in a guideline range of 262 to 327 months' imprisonment. U.S.S.G. ch. 5, pt. A.

         On November 12, 2015, Pridgeon filed a response to the PSR in which he objected to the application of the career offender increase. In particular, Pridgeon argued that his 2006 drug convictions did not qualify as predicate "controlled substance offenses" within the ...

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