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United States v. Shawl

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

June 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GIOVANNI RODRICK SHAWL, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN P. WAITERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Giovanni Rodrick Shawl's motion to withdraw his guilty plea to count 5 of the indictment. (Doc. 41). For the following reasons, the Court denies Shawl's motion.

         I. Facts

         The following facts are taken from the offer proof, exhibits attached to briefs, the change of plea hearing, motion hearing testimony, and motion hearing exhibits. The motion hearing testimony is cited as (Tr.).

         A. Investigation

         In the summer of 2017, Charles Moffet, a detective with the Yellowstone County Sheriffs Office, received information that Giovanni Shawl was distributing methamphetamine from his residence in Billings, Montana. (Tr. at 37:8-38:6). After performing surveillance, Detective Moffet and members of a drug task force conducted a series of successful controlled purchases from Shawl using a confidential informant. (Tr. at 38:1-6); (Doc. 19 at 3-4). During each transaction, Shawl was seen driving a black Chevy Silverado. (Tr. at 38:7-25); (Doc. 19 at 4). The Silverado was registered to Kyla Harper, who law enforcement understood to be Shawl's girlfriend. (Tr. 39:1-3).

         On September 20, 2017, the team executed search warrants on Shawl's residence and the Silverado. (Tr. at 39:7-44:3); (Doc. 19 at 4-5). Inside the residence, law enforcement recovered a Pioneer arms 7.62 rifle, .40 caliber ammunition, .40 caliber magazines, marijuana, and a digital scale. (Doc. 19 at 4-5). The team did not find the Silverado's keys inside the residence but one way or another gained access inside the truck. Inside the Silverado, law enforcement found .223 ammunition, a loaded Smith and Wesson .40 caliber pistol, a loaded Taurus 9mm pistol, and 5.4 grams of methamphetamine. (Doc. 19 at 5). Additionally, the Silverado had days old receipts with Shawl's name on them, Shawl's backpack, and construction equipment. (Tr. 43:3-44:3; 65:10-22). Shawl worked construction at the time. (Tr. 65:10-22).

         In November 2017, Detective Moffet met with Harper to discuss Shawl's case. (Tr. 44:4-45:16); (Doc. 40 at 1). Harper requested the meeting because she was concerned she would lose her Silverado. (Tr. 44:11-24); (Doc. 40 at 1). At the meeting, Harper told Detective Moffet she purchased a firearm for Shawl as a gift, which she described as a silver pistol. (Tr. 44:19-45:16; 53:4-22); (Doc. 40 at 1). Detective Moffet believed Harper was referencing the Taurus 9mm found in the Silverado. (Doc. 40 at 1); (Tr. 55:16-21). Harper didn't say anything else of substance at the meeting. (Doc. 40 at 1); (Tr. 44:19-45:16).

         Two months later, Harper requested to meet with Detective Moffet again because she said she had information regarding Shawl which would be useful to the investigation. (Tr. 45:20-25); (Doc. 40 at 1). The second meeting, which was recorded, covered a wide range of topics, including the nature of Harper's relationship with Shawl and his family and other potential crimes. (Tr. 46:7-47:12). Relevant to Detective Moffet's investigation of Shawl, Harper stated she had given the Silverado to Shawl so he could start a business. (Tr. 46:13-14; 47:6-12). Harper said she rarely drove the Silverado and it was almost exclusively Shawl's vehicle. (Tr. 47:10-12); (Doc. 48 Ex. B at 13:00-14:30).

         B. Indictment and defense

          On May 17, 2018, Shawl was indicted on four counts of distributing methamphetamine within 1000 feet of a school, one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and one count of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm. (Doc. 1). The indictment stated the firearm Shawl used in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime was a Taurus 9mm.

         Distributing methamphetamine within 1000 feet of a school carries a mandatory minimum one year prison sentence. 21 U.S.C. § 860(a). Possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence consecutive to any other sentence. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).

         At Shawl's arraignment, Federal Defender David Merchant was appointed to represent him. (Doc. 6). Merchant assigned himself and his support staff tasks to complete in Shawl's defense, such as interviewing witnesses, reviewing video and audio, and parsing the discovery. (Tr. 58:1-8). Merchant spoke with Harper three times. (Tr. 58:20-59:2). During the first conversation, Merchant went over Harper's meetings with Detective Moffet. (Tr. 59:8-60:1). His practice was to read a witness the statement he or she provided to law enforcement and then ask the witness if he or she had any comments or corrections. (Tr. 59:20-60:1). When Merchant read Harper her statements to Detective Moffet that she had given a silver pistol to Shawl as a gift and given the Silverado to Shawl so he could start a business, she did not correct either statement. (Tr. 60:2-15).

         Merchant's next conversation with Harper was to advise her to hire an attorney if she was called to testify at trial. (Tr. 60:24-61:6). The final conversation with Harper was a discussion about Shawl's potential prison time. (Tr. 61:12-62:13). Harper did not correct or otherwise indicate her statements ...


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