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United States v. Jefferys

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 10, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DEVONE JEFFERYS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          HON. KIYO A. MATSUMOTO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On October 22, 2019, a jury in the Eastern District of New York found Devone Jefferys (“Mr. Jefferys”) guilty of (1) conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, (2) attempted Hobbs Act robbery, and (3) unlawful use or possession of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence (specifically, attempted Hobbs Act robbery) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Mr. Jefferys now moves for a judgment of acquittal on Count Three pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c)(2). For the reasons set forth below, Mr. Jefferys' motion is DENIED.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 29(c)(2) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a district court shall enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. A defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction “‘bears a heavy burden.'” United States v. Velasquez, 271 F.3d 364, 370 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting United States v. Finley, 245 F.3d 199, 202 (2d Cir. 2001)); see also United States v. Tillem, 906 F.2d 814, 821 (2d Cir. 1990) (stating that motions to challenge sufficiency of evidence “rarely carry the day”).

         In determining whether to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal, the district court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. United States v. Temple, 447 F.3d 130, 136 (2d Cir. 2006). “All permissible inferences must be drawn in the government's favor.” United States v. Guadagna, 183 F.3d 122, 129 (2d Cir. 1999). The court must ask whether “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'” Temple, 447 F.3d at 136 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). “Put another way, ‘[a] court may enter a judgment of acquittal only if the evidence that the defendant committed the crime alleged is nonexistent or so meager that no reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'” Id. (quoting Guadagna, 183 F.3d at 130).

         The Second Circuit has “emphasized that 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) (citing Guadagna, 183 F.3d at 129 (“Rule 29(c) does not provide the trial court with an opportunity to substitute its own determination of . . . the weight of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn for that of the jury.”)). It is the jury's task, not the Court's, to “choose among competing inferences that can be drawn from the evidence.” Id. (citing United States v. Martinez, 54 F.3d 1040, 1043 (2d Cir. 1995)). “These principles apply whether the evidence being reviewed is direct or circumstantial.” United States v. Maldonado-Rivera, 922 F.2d 934, 978 (2d Cir. 1990); see also Jackson, 335 F.3d at 180 (“[Courts must] bear in mind that the jury's verdict may rest entirely on circumstantial evidence.”). “[I]f the court concludes that either of the two results, a reasonable doubt or no reasonable doubt, is fairly possible, [the court] must let the jury decide the matter.” Guadagna, 183 F.3d at 129.

         Discussion

         Mr. Jefferys challenges the sufficiency of the evidence regarding his conviction for unlawful use or possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Mr. Jefferys claims that the evidence at trial did not show beyond a reasonable doubt (1) that he knowingly and intentionally possessed a firearm or (2) that the weapon he possessed satisfied the legal definition of a firearm, as set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3).[1] The Court finds that there was sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt and, consequently, will deny Mr. Jefferys' motion for acquittal.

         I. Evidence that Mr. Jefferys Possessed a Firearm

         Mr. Jefferys briefly argues that the Government failed to present sufficient evidence that he knowingly and intentionally possessed a firearm as charged in Count Three. But the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that Mr. Jefferys used or carried a firearm during and in relation to the attempted Hobbs Act robbery, or that he possessed a firearm in furtherance of the attempted Hobbs Act robbery. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).

         At trial, four witnesses - including Mr. Jefferys' co-conspirator, Ronell Peterkin - testified that Mr. Jefferys possessed a weapon during the attempted Hobbs Act robbery:

Ronell Peterkin testified that he personally handed Mr. Jefferys a firearm just before the pair entered the victims' apartment. (Trial Transcript (“Tr.”), at 509:4-10.) Mr. Peterkin also testified that, once inside the apartment, Mr. Jefferys held several victims at gunpoint in the living room. (Id. at 511:3-6.)
Jaime Arriaga testified that during the robbery, the “thin” robber (i.e., Mr. Jefferys) “had a gun” and “was threatening and pointing it” at the victims. (Id. at 369:10-22.)
• Sheila Tavera testified that the “skinny” robber “aim[ed] a gun at” two victims (id. at 242:18-243:7) and, on more than one occasion, held the gun in ...

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