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United States v. Brinson

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

December 8, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
TARRAN ARNEL BRINSON, Defendant - Appellant

Page 1315

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. (D.C. No. 4:13-CR-00004-GKF-1).

Mark K. McCulloch, Brownstone, P.A., Winter Park, Florida (Robert L. Sirianni, Jr., Brownstone, P.A., Winter Park, Florida with him on the briefs), for Appellant.

Leena Alam, Assistant United States Attorney, Tulsa, Oklahoma (Danny C. Williams, Sr., United States Attorney, Tulsa, Oklahoma with her on the brief), for the Appellee.

Before HOLMES, BACHARACH, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1316

BACHARACH, Circuit Judge.

Mr. Tarran Brinson was charged with various offenses involving trafficking in child prostitution. At trial, the prosecutor presented expert testimony on the operation of child prostitution rings, testimony by three men who had sex with a prostitute, and evidence consisting of electronic messages. Mr. Brinson was convicted and he appeals, requiring us to address six issues:

o Qualification of Expert Witness: Mr. Brinson argues the district court erroneously allowed expert testimony on child prostitution. Mr. Brinson asserts (1) the testimony would not have aided the jury's assessment, and (2) the testimony was unreliable because

Page 1317

it was not based on the facts. We disagree. The expert discussed aspects of child prostitution rings unknown to many jurors. Thus, the court acted within its discretion in allowing the testimony.
o Admission of Facebook and Text Messages: Mr. Brinson argues the district court erroneously admitted certain text and Facebook messages. According to Mr. Brinson, the messages are inadmissible hearsay and their introduction into evidence violated his constitutional right to confrontation. The Facebook messages do not constitute hearsay because they consist of statements of a party opponent. Thus, introduction of the Facebook messages did not violate the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. Mr. Brinson waived his arguments regarding the text messages by failing to identify the ones that had been erroneously admitted.
o Statements of Unidentified Declarant: Mr. Brinson argues the district court erroneously admitted hearsay statements by an unidentified declarant speaking to an officer. But the statements were not offered for their truth; rather, the statements were offered to show why the testifying officer had taken certain investigative steps. Thus, the district court did not err in allowing use of the statements.
o Admission of Authentication Form: Mr. Brinson argues the district court violated the right to confrontation by admitting a " testimonial" document without allowing cross-examination of the person that had created that document. But the document was prepared to authenticate records, not to prove a fact at trial. Thus, introduction of the document did not violate Mr. Brinson's right to confrontation.
o Admission of Evidence Obtained during Arrest: Mr. Brinson argues the district court erroneously denied a motion to suppress evidence because officers lacked probable cause for an arrest. We conclude that police had probable cause to arrest Mr. Brinson; thus, the court did not err in allowing introduction of evidence obtained after the arrest.
o Sufficiency of Evidence: Mr. Brinson challenges the sufficiency of evidence of his guilt. But based on the trial evidence, the jury could reasonably have found Mr. Brinson guilty of each crime. Thus, we reject this challenge to the conviction.

In light of these conclusions, we affirm.

I. The Sting

In December 2012, a Tulsa police officer (Keith Osterdyk) was working undercover, posing as someone wanting to hire a prostitute from the " escort" section of a website called " Backpage.com."

Officer Osterdyk noticed an advertisement (titled " Sexy London -- Let's Play 21" ) and called. After a brief exchange, the female on the other end stated the cost and arranged a meeting in Room 123 at a Super 8 Motel. Officer Osterdyk went to the room and was met by a girl. (We refer to the girl as " C.H." ).

C.H. agreed to perform oral sex for a specific price. While Officer Osterdyk spoke, he noticed that the girl had an open cell phone on the bed. To Officer Osterdyk, an experienced vice officer, the open cell phone meant that a third party was listening.

While Officer Osterdyk remained in the room, several " back-up" officers were monitoring Room 123 from unmarked vehicles in the motel parking lot. While monitoring the room, the officers noticed a black SUV moving slowly close to Room 123.

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The SUV had a " Jani-King" cleaning service logo on its side. The officers believed that the SUV driver might be working as security for the girl in the room.

Shortly after the black SUV appeared, C.H. picked up her phone and noticed that someone had texted her two warning messages:

1. " Don't do nothing. That's the police."
2. " People outside the room. Don't do nothing."

The messages had come from a contact listed as " Twin."

Officer Osterdyk saw an abrupt change in C.H.'s demeanor. At that point, the officer identified himself, arrested C.H., seized the cell phone, and read the two messages from " Twin."

After arresting C.H., authorities continued to investigate. One of the backup officers, Officer Zeller, visited the motel office and learned that Room 123 had been rented by Tarran Brinson. He was described as a young, skinny black male, with braids or dreadlocks, wearing a red shirt and a red Chicago Bulls hat.

The clerk also told Officer Zeller that Mr. Brinson

o had rented four other rooms at the motel during the previous week, and
o was a " regular" at the motel, always paying in cash.

The clerk gave Officer Zeller the registration records for Room 123 and the four other rooms. The registration records contained copies of Mr. Brinson's photo identification.

Finally, the clerk told Officer Zeller that Mr. Brinson usually drove a black SUV, pointing it out in the parking lot. The officers identified the SUV as the one they had seen.

II. The Arrest of Mr. Brinson

Roughly 45 minutes later, officers found Mr. Brinson in the parking lot of a nearby motel. Officers confronted Mr. Brinson, who confirmed that

o he had rented Room 123 that night,
o he owned the black SUV with the " Jani-King" logo, and
o he had driven his SUV through the parking lot that night.

With these admissions, officers arrested Mr. Brinson.

III. Trial and Conviction

The government charged Mr. Brinson with seven crimes:

1. Conspiracy to Engage in Sex Trafficking,
2. Sex Trafficking of Children,
3. Attempted Sex Trafficking of Children,
4. Use of a Facility in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Racketeering Enterprise,
5. Coercion and Enticement,
6. Obstruction of Justice, and
7. Obstruction of Justice by Threat or Corruption.

After the government presented its case, Mr. Brinson moved for a judgment of acquittal on all charges. The court granted Mr. Brinson's motion on the count of Obstruction of Justice by Threat or Corruption, but denied the motion on the other six charges.

The jury found Mr. Brinson guilty of the remaining six charges, and the district court entered a judgment of conviction. This appeal followed.

IV. Expert Witness

At trial, the court considered Detective Derek Stigerts qualified to testify as an expert on prostitution. Mr. Brinson argues

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that this ruling constituted error for two reasons:

1. The detective's testimony was limited to information that an average juror would already know; thus, the testimony would not have aided the jury.
2. The testimony was unreliable because it was not based on the facts.[1]

We reject these arguments.

A. Standard of Review

We review the trial court's admission of expert testimony for abuse of discretion, and we will reverse only when the ruling is " manifestly erroneous." United States v. Dazey, 403 F.3d 1147, 1171 (10th Cir. 2005).

B. Helpfulness to the Jury

The court acted within its discretion by deeming the detective qualified as an expert, and he testified based on his expertise about specialized concepts that could have helped the jury. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion by allowing expert testimony by Detective Stigerts.

He discussed the prostitution trade, including

o the meaning of certain terms commonly used in the prostitution trade, such as " the game," " finesse pimp," " gorilla pimp," " escort," and " throw-aways,"
o the relationship between pimps and their prostitutes,
o how pimps and prostitutes use cellphones,
o how pimps and prostitutes use the internet, including websites such as Facebook.com and Backpage.com,
o how pimps recruit prostitutes, and
o how pimps control prostitutes.

IV Aplt. App. at 725-41.

The detective's explanation of terminology could have proven helpful. Throughout the trial, some of the witnesses used words common in the prostitution industry, such as " the game," " finesse pimp," and " throw-aways." To process this testimony, the jurors had to know what the words meant. The detective helped by defining these words for the jury. See United States v. Solorio-Tafolla, 324 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003).

Detective Stigerts also helped the jury by explaining how a pimp would have used the internet and cellphones to recruit and control prostitutes. See United States v. Taylor, 239 F.3d 994, 998 (9th Cir. 2001) (" By and large, the relationship between prostitutes and pimps is not the subject of common knowledge." ).

Thus, we conclude that the district court acted

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within its discretion in concluding that the detective's testimony would ...


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