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United States v. Lyttle

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

February 7, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
KARL LYTTLE, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The following matter is before the court on defendant Karl Lyttle Jr.'s (“defendant”) motion in limine to allow evidence of self-defense or the defense of necessity. For the following reasons, the court denies defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Defendant has been indicted for knowingly using and carrying a firearm during, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of, a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), and brandishing and discharging said firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(iii). ECF No. 2. The indictment stems from a November 22, 2013 incident that resulted in the shooting death of Jerrit Jamal Timberson (“Timberson”).

         It is undisputed that Timberson and four other individuals (collectively, the “conspirators”) contacted defendant under the guise of purchasing marijuana, with the intention of robbing him during the transaction. Def.'s Mot. 2; Gov't's Resp. 2. The conspirators drove to meet defendant and brought along two “airsoft” guns[2] that were almost indistinguishable from real handguns. Def.'s Mot. 3; Gov't's Resp. 2. Upon the arrival, Timberson and another conspirator, Kelsey Dent (“Dent”), approached the vehicle that defendant was sitting in and began the transaction. Def.'s Mot. 3. Timberson and Dent then displayed-and possibly pointed-the airsoft guns, at which point defendant retrieved his very real pistol and shot Timberson. Id. at 3-4. Timberson was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Gov't's Resp. at 1. Notably, the state solicitor charged defendant with possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, but declined to charge defendant in connection with the shooting after determining that defendant acted in self-defense. Def.'s Mot. 8.

         Defendant wishes to present evidence of self-defense or necessity at his trial, while the government contends that these defenses are inapplicable to offenses charged. Defendant filed the instant motion in limine to resolve this dispute on March 21, 2016. ECF No. 65. The government filed a response on April 11, 2016. ECF No. 66. Defendant then filed a supplemental brief in support of his motion on August 14, 2016, ECF No. 74, and the government filed a supplemental response on August 29, 2016. EcF No. 76. The motion is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that justification defenses-self-defense, necessity, duress, etc.-are available to defendants charged with a crime under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (the “Safe Streets Act”). Def.'s Mot. 6-7. Defendant relies the on Supreme Court's decision in Dixon v. United States, 548 U.S. 1 (2006), and various other decisions that have recognized the availability of such defenses in cases dealing with other firearm possession offenses outlined in the Safe Streets Act. Id. at 7. The government argues that, as a matter of law, justification defenses are not available in cases brought under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which deals with the possession and use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.[3] Gov't's Resp. 5-6.

         18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) provides:

any person who, during and in relation to any . . . drug trafficking crime . . ., uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime--
(i) be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years;
(ii) if the firearm is brandished, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 7 years; and
(iii) if the firearm is discharged, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years.

         Proof of a § 924(c) violation requires “evidence indicating that the possession of a firearm furthered, advanced, or helped forward a drug trafficking crime.” United States v. Perry, 560 F.3d 246, 254 (4th Cir. ...


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