U.S. v. Saborit

Decision Date23 June 1997
Docket NumberNo. CR 96-4043-MWB.,CR 96-4043-MWB.
Citation967 F.Supp. 1136
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Narciso SABORIT, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

Timothy T. Jarman, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Sioux City, IA, for Plaintiff.

Kevin W. Techau, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Des Moines, IA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT SABORIT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AND MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

BENNETT, District Judge.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND .................................. 1137
                II. LEGAL ANALYSIS .............................................. 1138
                    A. Saborit's Renewed Motion For Judgment Of Acquittal ....... 1138
                       1. Standard of review .................................... 1138
                       2. Sufficiency of the evidence ........................... 1140
                    B. Saborit's Motion For New Trial ........................... 1144
                       1. Standard of review .................................... 1144
                       2. Weight of evidence .................................... 1145
                III. CONCLUSION ................................................. 1148
                

Over a century ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, speaking through his most famous character, Sherlock Holmes, wrote: "Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing ... it may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different." SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, THE BOSCOMBE VALLEY MYSTERY, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES 85 (Modern Library ed.1920) (1892). Defendant's post trial motions in this criminal case illuminate the simple truth of Holmes' observation.

This case is based exclusively on circumstantial evidence. Defendant Narciso Saborit was convicted by a jury of possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute. The government's evidence at trial consisted of items seized from an apartment that Saborit shared with two or three other individuals: packets of crack cocaine found in a jacket; a crack cocaine pipe; metal scouring pads that are sometimes employed to smoke crack cocaine; and four boxes of baking soda, a necessary ingredient for converting powdered cocaine into crack cocaine. The government also offered some bank records from accounts held by Saborit. Not surprisingly, Saborit's post trial motions for judgment of acquittal and for new trial focus on his challenge to the sufficiency of this circumstantial evidence to support his conviction. Thus, the court is required to assess the sufficiency of the evidence under the related but differing standards of review governing motions for judgment of acquittal, under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, and motions for new trial, under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33.

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

On September 19, 1996, the United States Grand Jury for the Northern District of Iowa returned a one-count indictment against Narciso Saborit, charging him with possessing with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B). The cocaine which forms the basis for this charge was discovered as the result of the execution of a search warrant for Saborit's residence on September 13, 1996.

On March 17, 1997, this case proceeded to trial before a jury. At trial, the government called three law enforcement officers as witnesses. All three officers were present at the time of the search of the apartment. The government also introduced a number of exhibits, and a stipulation with Saborit regarding his previous employment and his bank accounts. At the close of the government's evidence, Saborit moved for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 on the sole count of the indictment. The court reserved ruling on this motion. At the conclusion of all the evidence, Saborit renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal, and the court once again reserved ruling. Saborit called two witnesses and he testified in his own defense. On March 19, 1997, the jury returned a verdict of guilty as to the charge of possessing with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B). On March 27, 1997, Saborit filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c), and a motion for a new trial, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. The government filed a timely resistance to each motion.

Oral arguments were held on Saborit's motions on June 13, 1997. The United States was represented by Timothy T. Jarman, Assistant United States Attorney. Saborit was represented by Kevin W. Techau, Assistant Federal Public Defender.

The court's consideration of defendant's motions begins with a recitation of the standard of review governing motions for judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, and then turns to a legal analysis of the issues raised by Saborit's motion for judgment of acquittal. Following that discussion, if necessary, the court will employ the same approach in addressing Saborit's motion for new trial.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS
A. Saborit's Renewed Motion For Judgment Of Acquittal

Saborit's motion for judgment of acquittal challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction. He asserts that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to permit a reasonable jury to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A critical component of this argument is Saborit's reliance on one of two seemingly contradictory lines of Eighth Circuit authority. Thus, Saborit's argument requires the court to determine which of these two lines of Eighth Circuit authority must be applied when considering his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence.

1. Standard of review

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 provides in relevant part as follows:

The court on motion of defendant or of its own motion shall order the entry of judgment of acquittal of one or more offenses charged in the indictment or information after the evidence on either side is closed if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of such offense or offenses.

Fed.R.Crim.P. 29(a). Pursuant to Eighth Circuit precedent, it is well-settled that "[j]ury verdicts are not lightly overturned." United States v. Hood, 51 F.3d 128, 129 (8th Cir.1995); accord United States v. Burks, 934 F.2d 148, 151 (8th Cir.1991). The case law governing motions for judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, imposes a significant constraint on the district court's authority to overturn a jury's verdict. See United States v. Perkins, 94 F.3d 429, 436 (8th Cir.1996) ("`[t]he standard of review of an appeal concerning the sufficiency of the evidence is very strict, and the verdict of the jury should not be overturned lightly.'") (quoting Burks, 934 F.2d at 151), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 1004, 136 L.Ed.2d 882 (1997); United States v. Easley, 70 F.3d 65, 67 (8th Cir.1995) ("The standard of review for a claim of insufficient evidence is very strict and the verdict of a jury should not be overturned lightly."), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 116 S.Ct. 1338, 134 L.Ed.2d 488 (1996); United States v. Scott, 64 F.3d 377, 380 (8th Cir.1995) (containing quotation from Burks, 934 F.2d at 151). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has instructed that "[t]he jury's verdict must be upheld if there is an interpretation of the evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Moore, 108 F.3d 878, 881 (8th Cir.1997); Perkins, 94 F.3d at 436 ("`The jury's verdict must be upheld if there is an interpretation of the evidence that would allow a reasonable-minded jury to conclude guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'") (quoting United States v. Erdman, 953 F.2d 387, 389 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 505 U.S. 1211, 112 S.Ct. 3009, 120 L.Ed.2d 883 (1992)); accord United States v. Maza, 93 F.3d 1390, 1399 (8th Cir.1996), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 1008, 136 L.Ed.2d 886 (1997); United States v. Bates, 77 F.3d 1101, 1104 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 215, 136 L.Ed.2d 149 (1996); Scott, 64 F.3d at 380; Hood, 51 F.3d at 129; United States v. Wilcox, 50 F.3d 600, 602 (8th Cir.1995); United States v. Smith, 49 F.3d 475, 479 (8th Cir. 1995); United States v. McMurray, 34 F.3d 1405, 1412 (8th Cir.1994), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 1164, 130 L.Ed.2d 1119 (1995); United States v. Parker, 32 F.3d 395, 399 (8th Cir.1994); United States v. Garfinkel, 29 F.3d 1253, 1257 (8th Cir.1994); United States v. Johnson, 12 F.3d 827, 831 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1095, 114 S.Ct. 1860, 128 L.Ed.2d 482 (1994); United States v. Rodriguez, 812 F.2d 414, 416 (8th Cir.1987). Here, Saborit contends that his motion for judgment of acquittal should be granted because the government's evidence introduced at his trial would not permit a reasonable jury to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In considering a motion for judgment of acquittal based on the sufficiency of the evidence, the court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict, giving the government the benefit of all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence." United States v. Basile, 109 F.3d 1304, 1310 (8th Cir.1997); Moore, 108 F.3d at 881 ("In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, resolving evidentiary conflicts in favor of the government, and accepting all reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence that supports the jury's verdict."); United States v. Buford, 108 F.3d 151, 153 (8th Cir.1997) ("the Court `views the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, resolving evidentiary conflicts in favor of the Government, and accepting all reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence that...

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