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United States v. Dalton

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 7, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL DALTON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's Rule 29 Motion for Judgment of Acquittal or in the Alternative Motion for New Trial. (Doc. 94.) The Government opposes this motion. (Doc. 95.) Having carefully considered the submissions of counsel, and relevant law, the Court will deny the motion.

         I. Background

         The Superseding Indictment charged Defendant with: (Count 1) Felon in Possession of Firearms and Ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and 924(e); and (Count 2) Unlawful Controlled Substance User and Addict in Possession of Firearms and Ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(1). (Doc. 34.) Before trial, the parties stipulated that (1) Defendant was a convicted felon; (2) the firearms and ammunition had traveled in or affected interstate commerce; and (3) Defendant was an unlawful user of and addicted to methamphetamine. (Doc. 54-1.)

         A jury trial was held on January 23-25, 2017. Defendant moved for judgment of acquittal at the close of the Government's case-in-chief and at the close of the evidence. (Doc. 82.) After two hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Defendant on both counts. (Doc. 86.)

         In the current motion, Defendant renews his motion for judgment of acquittal and moves in the alternative for a new trial on the grounds that (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain the convictions; (2) the Court erred in excluding the statement of Maria Nevarez; and (3) the Court erred in admitting evidence of the ammunition found in May 2016 at 1101 Kenlea Drive. (Doc. 94.)

         II. Standard

         Defendant relies on Rules 29 and 33 of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure in support of his motion. Rule 29 governs motions for judgment of acquittal and Rule 33 governs motions for new trial.

         Rule 29(a) provides in relevant part: “[a]fter the government closes its evidence or after the close of all the evidence, the court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). In considering a motion for judgment of acquittal, the standard is whether taking the evidence, both direct and circumstantial, together with the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the government, a rational finder of fact could reasonably have found the defendant guilty of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). In conducting this inquiry, the court may neither assess witness credibility nor weigh the evidence presented to the jury. United States v. Delgado-Uribe, 363 F.3d 1077, 1081 (10th Cir. 2004).

         Rule 33 provides that “the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a). “A motion for a new trial is not regarded with favor and is only issued with great caution.” United States v. Herrera, 481 F.3d 1266, 1269-70 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing United States v. Trujillo, 136 F.3d 1388, 1394 (10th Cir. 1998)). The decision whether to grant a motion for a new trial is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. United States v. Stevens, 978 F.2d 565, 570 (10th Cir. 1992). Under Tenth Circuit precedent, sufficiency of the evidence challenges made under Rule 29 or Rule 33 motions are reviewed under the same standard. Compare United States v. Vallo, 238 F.3d 1242, 1246-48 (10th Cir. 2001) (applying the sufficiency of the evidence standard to the adjudication of a Rule 29 motion), and United States v. Zabriskie, 415 F.3d 1139, 1144 (10th Cir. 2005) (applying the sufficiency of the evidence standard to the denial of a Rule 33 motion).

         III. Discussion

         A. Sufficiency of the evidence

         Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the verdict. “Sufficiency review essentially addresses whether ‘the government's case was so lacking that it should not have even been submitted to the jury.'” Musacchio v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 709, 715 (2016) (quoting Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1, 16 (1978)). Thus, courts consider “only the ‘legal' question ‘whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'” Id. (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319). This “limited review does not intrude on the jury's role ‘to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.'” Id. (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319).

         The essential elements of the charged crimes are: (1) Defendant knowingly possessed a firearm and/or ammunition; (2) Defendant was convicted of a felony before he possessed the firearm for Count 1 and the Defendant was an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance, thereby endangering the public morals, health, safety, and welfare and had lost the power of self- control with reference to his addiction for Count 2; and (3) before Defendant possessed the firearm and/or ammunition, the firearm and/or ammunition had moved at some time from one state to another. (Doc. 84.) Because the parties stipulated to the second and third elements of the offenses, the only question for the jury to determine was whether Defendant knowingly possessed a firearm and/or ammunition. (I ...


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