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United States v. Green

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 27, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ERNEST GREEN, a/k/a “Ern, ” RODSHAUN BLACK, a/k/a “Rashaun Black” a/k/a “Shaun, ” DANIEL RODRIGUEZ, a/k/a “Danny, ” Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. SKRETNY United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Presently before this Court are Motions for Judgment of Acquittal under Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure made by Defendants Ernest Green, Rodshaun Black, and Daniel Rodriguez (collectively “Defendants”). This Court reserved decision on Defendants' motions after they made them at the close of the government's proof (Docket No. 711), at the close of all proof (Docket Nos. 715, 725), and by way of supplemental submissions (Docket Nos. 760-763). For the following reasons, Defendants' motions are denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On October 31, 2017, Defendants, together with Amilcar Ramos, proceeded to trial on a 9-count superseding indictment. (Docket Nos. 155, 625.) Counts 1 through 5 related to the robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and murder of Jabril Harper (“the Harper counts”). In Counts 1 and 2, Defendants and Ramos were charged with Hobbs Act conspiracy and Hobbs Act robbery and extortion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 (a) and 2. In Count 3, Defendants and Ramos were charged with kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1201 (a)(1) and 2. In Count 4, Defendants were charged with discharge of a firearm causing death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924 (j)(1) and 2. And in Count 5, Defendants and Ramos were charged with the use, brandish, and discharge of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924 (c)(1)(A)(i), (ii), (iii) and 2.

         Counts 6 through 9 of the superseding indictment related to the robbery, extortion, and kidnapping of Morris Singer, and charged only Green and Black (“the Singer counts”). In Counts 6 and 7, Green and Black were charged with Hobbs Act conspiracy and Hobbs Act robbery and extortion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 (a) and 2. In Count 8, Green and Black were charged with kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1201 (a)(1) and 2. In Count 9, Green and Black were charged with the possession and brandish of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924 (c)(1)(A)(i), (ii) and 2.

         On January 17, 2018, after more than 11 weeks of trial, the jury returned a partial verdict under Rule 31(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, after deliberating for seven days. (Docket Nos. 740, 743.) It acquitted Green and Black on the Singer counts and acquitted Ramos on all counts against him. (Id.) After further deliberations the following day, the jury remained hung on the Harper counts against Green, Black, and Rodriguez. (Docket No. 741.) This Court therefore declared a mistrial without objection. (Id.)

         Thereafter, on February 8, 2018, this Court granted Green's motion to dismiss the indictment on constitutional speedy-trial grounds (joined by Black and Rodriguez), which Green had previously filed on the eve of trial. (Docket Nos. 605, 607, 615, 780.) In short, this Court found that Defendants' 68-month pretrial detention, which was principally chargeable to the government, severely prejudiced Defendants, particularly because they spent their pretrial detention under oppressive conditions and under threat of the death penalty, such that their Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial were violated. United States v. Green, 12-CR-83S (1)(2)(3), 2018 WL 786185 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 8, 2018). This Court therefore dismissed the indictment with prejudice as required. Id.

         To complete the record, this Court now resolves Defendants' Motions for Judgment of Acquittal, which were made at various times during and after trial. Defendants first made Rule 29 motions at the close of the government's proof. (Docket No. 711.) They moved again at the close of all proof. (Docket Nos. 715, 725.) Defendants then moved again through supplemental submissions post-trial. (Docket Nos. 760-763.) This Court reserved decision on each of Defendants' motions. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(b).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under Rule 29(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a court must, upon a defendant's motion, “enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” A defendant may move for a judgment of acquittal after the government closes its evidence, after the close of all evidence, or after the jury has returned its verdict or has been discharged. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a) and (c)(1). A defendant may also renew a previously denied Rule 29 motion, so long as renewal occurs within 14 days after the guilty verdict or discharge of the jury, whichever is later. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c)(1).

         The making of a motion for a judgment of acquittal before the court submits the case to the jury is not a prerequisite for making such a motion after the jury is discharged. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c)(3). “[W]hen a motion for judgment of acquittal made at the close of the government's case-in-chief is denied and a defendant presents a case, then the evidence put in by the defense will also be considered in deciding a [Rule 29] motion made after the trial ends.” United States v. Truman, 762 F.Supp.2d 437, 445 (N.D.N.Y. 2011).

         A defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, as Defendants do here, bears a heavy burden. United States v. Hassan, 578 F.3d 108, 126 (2d Cir. 2008); United States v. Finley, 245 F.3d 199, 202 (2d Cir. 2001). “In evaluating whether the evidence was sufficient to convict a defendant, [a reviewing court] consider[s] all of the evidence, both direct and circumstantial, ‘in the light most favorable to the government, crediting every inference that the jury might have drawn in favor of the government.'” United States v. Velasquez, 271 F.3d 364, 370 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting United States v. Walker, 191 F.3d 326, 333 (2d Cir. 1999)).

         When considering the trial evidence, “the court must be careful to avoid usurping the role of the jury.” United States v. Jackson, 335 F.3d 170, 180 (2d Cir. 2003). The court may not “substitute its own determination of . . . the weight of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn for that of the jury.” United States v. Guadagna, 183 F.3d 122, 130 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Determining the witnesses' credibility falls strictly within the province of the jury. Guadagna ...


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