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United States v. Vallee

April 10, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RICHARD VALLEE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant Richard Vallee was charged in a two (2) count Superceding Indictment with violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 844(i), 1512(a)(1)(c), 1512(a)(3)(A), and 2.*fn1 Following a jury trial, Vallee was convicted of each of the two counts. Vallee now moves to vacate his convictions pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Government has opposed the motions.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

a. Rule 29

Defendant moves for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. See Notice of Motion, dkt. # 79; Memo. L. In Support of Rule 29 Motion, dkt. # 98. On such a motion, the Court must ask "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." United States v. Espaillet, 380 F.3d 713, 718 (2d Cir. 2004)(quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)); see Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c).

"[C]courts must be careful to avoid usurping the role of the jury when confronted with a motion for acquittal." United States v. Jackson, 335 F.3d 170, 180 (2d Cir. 2003). In this regard, the Court must avoid substituting its own determination of the weight of the evidence presented and the reasonable inferences that may be drawn from that evidence. Id. "Indeed, it is the task of the jury, not the court, to choose among competing inferences that can be drawn from the evidence." Id. The Court must "credit[] every inference that the jury might have drawn in favor of the government," United States v. Temple, 447 F.3d 130, 136-37 (2d Cir. 2006), and resolve "all issues of credibility in favor of the jury's verdict." United States v. Desena, 260 F.3d 150, 154 (2d Cir. 2001); see also United States v. Florez, 447 F.3d 145, 154-155 (2d Cir. 2006)("In assessing sufficiency, we are obliged to view the evidence in its totality and in the light most favorable to the prosecution, mindful that the task of choosing among permissible competing inferences is for the jury, not a reviewing court."). Further, the Court must "bear in mind that the jury's verdict may rest entirely on circumstantial evidence." United States v. Jackson, 335 F.3d at 180.

Although a defendant's burden on such a motion is not insurmountable, a judgment of acquittal will only be granted if "no rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Cassese, 428 F.3d 92, 98 (2d Cir. 2005). Put another way, a Rule 29 motion must be denied if, "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." United States v. Temple, 447 F.3d at 136 (emphasis in original).

b. Rule 33

Defendant also moves for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. See Notice of Motion, dkt. # 79; Memo. L. In Support of Rule 33 Motion, dkt. # 91. Rule 33 provides that "the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). Rule 33 by its terms gives the trial court broad discretion to set aside a jury verdict and order a new trial to avert a perceived miscarriage of justice. The district court must strike a balance between weighing the evidence and credibility of witnesses and not wholly usurping the role of the jury. Because the courts generally must defer to the jury's resolution of conflicting evidence and assessment of witness credibility, it is only where exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated that the trial judge may intrude upon the jury function of credibility assessment. An example of exceptional circumstances is where testimony is patently incredible or defies physical realities, although the district court's rejection of trial testimony by itself does not automatically permit Rule 33 relief.

The ultimate test on a Rule 33 motion is whether letting a guilty verdict stand would be a manifest injustice. The trial court must be satisfied that competent, satisfactory and sufficient evidence in the record supports the jury verdict. The district court must examine the entire case, take into account all facts and circumstances, and make an objective evaluation.

There must be a real concern that an innocent person may have been convicted. Generally, the trial court has broader discretion to grant a new trial under Rule 33 than to grant a motion for acquittal under Rule 29, but it nonetheless must exercise the Rule 33 authority sparingly and in the most extraordinary circumstances.

United States v. Ferguson, 246 F.3d 129, 133-34 (2d Cir. 2001)(internal quotation marks ...


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