The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court
On July 29, 2010, after a two-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Defendant Chad Koschuk on a single-count indictment, which charged him with retaliating against a witness in an official proceeding in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1513(b)(1) and (2).
Presently before this Court is Defendant's post-trial motion seeking a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, or alternatively, a new trial pursuant to Rule 33.*fn1 The government opposes the motion. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is denied in its entirety.
Defendant was convicted of threatening bodily injury to an individual named Jason Macken, in retaliation for Macken providing information to federal law enforcement. Macken is a former member of the Chosen Few Motorcycle Club. Defendant's father, Alex Koschtschuk is a current member and president of the Chosen Few.
During ongoing investigation into the Chosen Few, federal agents interviewed Macken about allegations that Koschtschuk extorted him out of $9,300 when he left the club. This interview occurred on June 17, 2009, and the information Macken provided led to the grand jury returning a third superseding indictment against Koschtschuk and other members of the Chosen Few on September 8, 2009, the second racketeering act of which included Koschtschuk's alleged extortion of Macken.
Three days after return of the third superseding indictment, Defendant encountered Macken outside a local convenience store, where Macken and three of his employees were having lunch at a picnic table. As Defendant entered the store, he saw Macken and warned him to "quit saying shit about my Dad [Koschtschuk]," or words to that effect. On the way out of the store several minutes later, Defendant again engaged Macken and told him that he was going to "fuck him in the ass while pulling his ponytail."
Rule 29(a) provides, in pertinent part, that upon the defendant's motion, a court must "enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." The focus of a Rule 29 motion therefore falls on the sufficiency of the evidence presented in the government's case-in-chief. See United States v. Saneaux, No. 03 CR 781, 2005 WL 2875324, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 1, 2005).
A defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence bears a heavy burden. See United States v. Autuori, 212 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 2000); United States v. Walker, 142 F.3d 103, 112 (2d Cir.1998). A district court may enter a judgment of acquittal on the grounds of insufficient evidence only if "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and drawing all reasonable inferences in the government's favor, it concludes no rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Reyes, 302 F.3d 48, 52 (2d Cir. 2002); see also United States v. Jackson, 335 F.3d 170, 180 (2d Cir. 2003); United States v. Skinner, No. 03-CR-11, 2005 WL 782811, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 6, 2005). Stated another way, "the court may enter a judgment of acquittal only if the evidence that the defendant committed the crime is non-existent or so meager that no reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Guadagna, 183 F.3d 122, 130 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation and quotation omitted).
When considering the trial evidence, "the court must be careful to avoid usurping the role of the jury." See Reyes, 302 F.3d at 52. The court is not permitted to "substitute its own determination of the weight of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn for that of the jury." Guadagna, 183 F.3d at 130 (internal quotations and citations omitted). The court must give "full play" to the jury's credibility determinations, weighing of the evidence, and drawing of justifiable inferences of fact. See United States v. Spadoni, No. 00-CR-217, 2005 WL 2275938, at *3 (D. Conn. Sept. 15, 2005) (citing Guadagna, 183 F.3d at 129).
To sustain its burden at trial, the Government had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant (1) threatened to engage in conduct that would cause bodily injury to Macken, and (2) acted knowingly and with specific intent to retaliate against Macken for Macken's attendance and testimony as a witness before the federal grand jury or for Macken providing ...