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United States of America v. Maurice Lavon Johnson

November 18, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MAURICE LAVON JOHNSON



ORDER

This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Defendant Maurice Lavon Johnson's Amended Motion for a New Trial and Amended Renewed Motion for Acquittal, both filed on October 18, 2011 (Doc. # 97, 98).*fn1 The Government filed a Response in Opposition to each Motion on October 24, 2011 (Doc. # 100, 101). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motions are denied.

I. Background

The Government's November 17, 2010, indictment contained one count against Johnson (Doc. # 1). The Government charged that Johnson and alleged co-conspirators Joel Christopher Williams and Rajeev R. Pherwani: did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire and agree together, and with each other, to possess with the intent to distribute one hundred (100) kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, a controlled substance, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a)(1). (Id. at 1). The indictment also contained a forfeiture count.

A jury trial was conducted during the week of October 11, 2011 (Doc. # 83, 84, 87, 88). On October 12, 2011, Johnson made an oral motion for judgment of acquittal (Doc. # 85), which the Court denied by oral order (Doc. # 86). The jury found Johnson guilty as to Count One of the indictment, and further found that the amount of marijuana involved in the offense charged was one hundred kilograms or more (Doc. # 94). The Court set Johnson's sentencing for January 26, 2012 (Doc. # 93).

By the present Motions, Johnson seeks a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 and a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29.

II. Standard of Decision

A. Rule 33 Motion for a New Trial

A new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 may be granted in the interests of justice or on the basis of newly discovered evidence. United States v. Ramos, 179 F.3d 1333, 1336 (11th Cir. 1999). A new trial may be granted in the interests of justice if the motion is filed "within 14 days after verdict or finding of guilty." In this case, the Motion was timely filed. Johnson has not asserted that the discovery of new evidence warrants a new trial. Accordingly, the Court will assess whether a new trial is warranted in the interests of justice.

A Rule 33 motion for a new trial "is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court." United States v. Martinez, 763 F.2d 1297, 1312 (11th Cir. 1985). "If the court concludes that . . . the evidence preponderates sufficiently heavily against the verdict that a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred, it may set aside the verdict, grant a new trial, and submit the issues for determination by another jury." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The court may follow this course even if the evidence is legally sufficient to sustain the verdict. Id. However, the Eleventh Circuit has admonished that "[a] motion for new trial must be viewed with 'great caution.'" United States v. Reed, 887 F.2d 1398, 1404 (11th Cir. 1989) (quoting United States v. Hall, 854 F.2d 1269, 1271 (11th Cir. 1988)).

B. Rule 29 Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

A motion for acquittal is governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. "As the text of the Rule indicates, and as courts and other authorities have recognized, '[t]he sole ground for a post-trial motion under Rule 29(c) is that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction.'" United States v. Hunt, 412 F. Supp. 2d 1277, 1282 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Miranda, 425 F.3d 953, 963 (11th Cir. 2005)). "The standard for assessing the sufficiency of evidence is whether any reasonable view of the evidence, considered in the light most favorable to the government, is sufficient to allow a jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Leonard, 138 F.3d 906, 908 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing United States v. Bush, 28 F.3d 1084, 1087 (11th Cir. 1994)).

III. Analysis

A. Rule 33 Motion for a New Trial

Johnson asserts that a new trial is warranted because the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence and/or there was insufficient evidence as to the weight of the marijuana to be in excess of one hundred kilograms (Doc. # 97 at ¶ 60). Johnson argues that the money to be used to purchase the marijuana belonged to Pherwani and did not belong to Johnson in whole or in part. (Id. at ¶ 47). A subsequent police search of Johnson's vehicle (a Chevrolet Silverado) did not reveal any incriminating evidence, and Johnson did not participate in any discussions involving drugs (Id. at ¶¶ 52-53). The Government presented a circumstantial evidence case, and the jury was so instructed. ...


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