The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court
On March 3, 2011, after a four-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Defendant Emerson Haynes, also known as Anthony Haynes, on Counts 2 and 4 of a four-count redacted indictment, which charged him with violating 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1) (maintaining a drug-involved premises) and 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) (felon in possession of a firearm), respectively.*fn1
At the conclusion of the Government's case-in-chief, Defendant moved
for a judgment of acquittal on all counts. This Court heard oral
argument from counsel and Defendant, and reserved decision on the
motion at that time. Presently before this Court is Defendant's
post-trial motion supplementing his request for a judgment of
acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, or
alternatively, seeking a new trial pursuant to Rule 33.*fn2
Defendant represented himself at trial, and filed this motion
pro se. The Government opposes the motion. For the reasons discussed
below, Defendant's motion is denied in its entirety.
The evidence at trial established that, on June 19, 2008, officers of the Buffalo Police Department executed a search warrant at 11 Northumberland Avenue, upper apartment. When police officers entered the upper apartment residence, they observed three individuals, including Defendant. The Government presented evidence to the jury of a utility bill recovered during the search that was addressed to Defendant at the upper apartment residence. The Government offered testimony that, upon execution of the search warrant, police officers broke open a lock securing a front bedroom closet of the upper apartment and discovered a quantity of marijuana contained in plastic bags, along with two firearms, concealed in the closet. Defendant was subsequently arrested and read his Miranda rights.
Buffalo Police Officer John Poisson testified that, when he was being taken into custody, Defendant stated that he had keys to the closet containing drugs and firearms and, further, that his wife had purchased one of the firearms for him. Poisson testified that officers subsequently discovered keys that he believed to have come from Defendant's person. The jury heard testimony that the keys matched a lock on the closet and a trigger lock on one of the firearms inside the closet. To contradict this evidence, Defendant presented a document, prepared by the now-deceased officer who effectuated his arrest, indicating that Defendant made no post-arrest statements.
At trial, Poisson testified that he observed a scale in the upper apartment residence, which he described as drug paraphernalia. Poisson also testified that officers found marijuana and $625 in cash when they searched Defendant. Finally, Poisson testified that he submitted the recovered keys and trigger lock to the Buffalo Police Department property unit and evidence was presented that Defendant subsequently appeared to claim the property.
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 on Count 2, the maintaining a drug-involved premises charge, the Government had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant (1) permanently or temporarily maintained or used the place described in the indictment, (2) did so for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance, and (3) acted knowingly.
With respect to Count 2, Defendant argues that the Government failed to prove that he did "knowingly . . . use or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily, for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance." 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1). Specifically, he argues that the Government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the second element of the offense-that the purpose for which he maintained 11 Northumberland, upper apartment, violated 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1). Defendant contends that there was no proof presented at trial that he maintained 11 Northumberland, upper apartment, for any purpose other than as his family home. Acknowledging that he resides there with his immediate family, Defendant argues that the marijuana recovered by police officers is consistent with no more than casual marijuana use at his home by the three other ...