739 F.3d 843 (5th Cir. 2014), 12-60988, United States v. Smith

Docket Nº:12-60988.
Citation:739 F.3d 843
Opinion Judge:FORTUNATO P. BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, Cross-Appellee v. James William SMITH, Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant.
Attorney:Paul David Roberts, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Oxford, MS, for Plaintiff-Appellant, Cross-Appellee. Julie Ann Epps, Esq., Canton, MS, for Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before KING, BENAVIDES, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:January 13, 2014
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 843

739 F.3d 843 (5th Cir. 2014)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, Cross-Appellee

v.

James William SMITH, Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant.

No. 12-60988.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

January 13, 2014

Page 844

Paul David Roberts, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Oxford, MS, for Plaintiff-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.

Page 845

Julie Ann Epps, Esq., Canton, MS, for Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.

Before KING, BENAVIDES, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

FORTUNATO P. BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge:

The United States appeals a Rule 29 judgment of acquittal following James William Smith's conviction for knowing possession of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). We reverse.

I. Background

The resolution of this appeal turns on a single question: did prosecutors present sufficient evidence that Smith was in knowing possession of the child pornography recovered from his shared computer? At trial, the prosecution produced uncontroverted evidence that someone intentionally downloaded videos of child pornography to Smith's computer during a period when Smith and two roommates, girlfriend Elizabeth Penix and long-time friend Joshua Jolly, were the regular and exclusive users of the computer. Employment records eliminated Penix as a suspect, and Jolly denied any knowledge of the files or associated software. Smith did not testify. Undisputed expert testimony indicated that the files were intact, that no special skill was required to download or access them, and that the files were so explicitly named that the individual downloading them must have known of their content. After deliberating for a few hours, the jury returned a guilty verdict.

Following the conviction, Smith filed a timely motion for new trial, FED.R.CRIM.P. 33, and separate motion for acquittal, FED.R.CRIM.P. 29. The district court rejected his arguments for a new trial, but entered judgment of acquittal, finding the evidence insufficient to sustain the verdict. See generally United States v. Smith, No. l:ll-cr-114, slip op. (N.D.Miss. Nov. 26, 2012), ECF No. 85. After reviewing the record under the applicable standard, we find sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Smith was in knowing possession of child pornography at the time the files were downloaded.

II. Sufficiency of the Evidence

A. Legal Standard

A district court must enter a judgment of acquittal where " the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." FED.R.CRIM.P. 29. We review sufficiency of the evidence de novo. United States v. Williams, 602 F.3d 313, 314-15 (5th Cir.2010). In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction, we examine all evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, and consider whether a rational trier of fact " could have found that the evidence established the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Moreland, 665 F.3d 137, 148-149 (5th Cir.2011) (citation omitted). In making such a determination, we consider " the countervailing evidence as well as the evidence that supports the verdict." Id. at 149 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Nonetheless, we must remain mindful that the weighing of evidence and the assessment of witness credibility " is solely within the province of the jury." United States v. Sanchez, 961 F.2d 1169...

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