U.S. v. Schneider

Decision Date29 August 2001
Docket NumberNo. CR00-4029MWB.,CR00-4029MWB.
Citation157 F.Supp.2d 1044
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Heath Damon SCHNEIDER, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

David E. Richter and Matthew D. Wilber of Richter & Wilber, Council Bluffs, IA, for Defendant Health Damon Schneider.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S POST-TRIAL MOTIONS

BENNETT, Chief Judge.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I. INTRODUCTION .............................................................. 1047
                 II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ............................................................ 1049
                     A. Schneider's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal ........................... 1049
                        1. Standards applicable to motions for judgment of acquittal ........... 1049
                        2. Sufficiency of the evidence ......................................... 1050
                     B. Schneider's Motion for a New Trial ..................................... 1054
                        1. Standards applicable to motions for new trial ....................... 1054
                        2. Prosecutorial Misconduct ............................................ 1056
                           a. The rebuttal closing argument .................................... 1057
                                 i. Did defense counsel's comments invite the prosecutor's
                reply? ................................................... 1060
                                 ii. Was Schneider prejudiced by the prosecutor's
                comment? ................................................. 1063
                           b. Marquardt's testimony ............................................ 1068
                        3. Weight of the evidence .............................................. 1070
                III. CONCLUSION ................................................................ 1070
                

Here, the court is called upon to determine whether, during the government's rebuttal closing argument, the federal prosecutor impermissibly "summon[ed] that thirteenth juror, prejudice"1 to secure a conviction against the defendant.

I. INTRODUCTION

On July 27, 2000, a United States Grand Jury for the Northern District of Iowa returned a second superseding, one-count indictment charging that, between about July 1996 and continuing through about June 1999, defendant Heath Damon Schneider ("Schneider") did knowingly and unlawfully combine, conspire, and agree with other persons to commit the following two separate offenses: (1) distribution of five hundred (500) grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 21, U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(vii); and (2) distribution of five hundred (500) grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(ii).

On March 19, 2001, the case against Schneider proceeded to trial before a jury. At trial, the government called two law enforcement officers, a criminalist, and six cooperating witnesses to testify in support of its case in chief against Schneider. Specifically, five of those six witnesses testified pursuant to written plea agreements, and one testified pursuant to an immunity agreement. The government also played three tape recorded conversations between Schneider and one of its cooperating witnesses, William Heiden, who testified that those conversations were representative of drug trafficking. At the close of the government's case, Schneider moved for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. The court denied this motion. In his defense, Schneider denied that he was ever involved in the drug trade, instead proclaiming that he was involved in the loan business. Schneider took the stand and testified that he made several loans to individuals, including Heiden. To support his theory of defense, Schneider called Brandon Lund to the witness stand, wherein he testified that he was aware of the loans that Schneider made, and that he actually made loans to and received payments from Heiden on Schneider's behalf. Schneider also called to the witness stand an individual by the name of Randy Kotter who testified that he received numerous loans from Schneider and further that he was aware that Schneider routinely made loans to employees and friends. At the conclusion of all of the evidence, Schneider renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal, and, once again, the court denied this motion. On March 26, 2001, the jury returned a verdict of guilty as to the charge of conspiracy to commit both offenses, namely distribution of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and distribution of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine. Although the government charged Schneider with over 500 grams as to both the methamphetamine offense and cocaine offense, the quantity of each controlled substance for which the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt Schneider was responsible consisted of the following: 50-499 grams of methamphetamine and less than 500 grams of cocaine.

On April 2, 2001, Schneider filed a timely post-trial Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (# 169) pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, as well as a Motion for New Trial (# 168) pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. In his post-trial Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, Schneider contends that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict against him on the charge set forth in the indictment. In his post-trial Motion for New Trial, Schneider contends that he is entitled to a new trial for the following reasons: (1) the government committed prosecutorial misconduct which deprived him of a fair trial; (2) the government withheld material exculpatory evidence from him; and (3) the verdict of the jury was contrary to the weight of the evidence. With respect to the alleged prosecutorial misconduct, Schneider specifically contends that the government engaged in an improper line of questioning of Toni Marquardt, and that the prosecutor made a highly improper comment during the rebuttal closing argument. With respect to the alleged withholding of evidence, Schneider specifically contends that the government failed to timely disclose William Heiden's perjury before the federal grand jury, and that the government failed to timely disclose prior trips to Mexico by William Heiden and Gail Swanson during which drugs were illegally obtained. Schneider argues that each one of these allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, individually, is grounds for a new trial, however, he also argues in the alternative that, in the event the court finds that each of these instances of alleged misconduct, taken individually, do not rise to the level of prejudice that would justify the granting of a new trial, the cumulative nature of the prosecutor's conduct would warrant the granting of a new trial. The government has resisted Schneider's post-trial motions.2 On May 25, 2001, the court held a hearing on Schneider's post-trial motions. The court deems the matter fully submitted, and, therefore, turns initially to the standard of review governing motions for judgments of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, and then to a legal analysis of the issues raised by Schneider in his motion for judgment of acquittal. Thereafter, but only if necessary the court will address Schneider's motion for new trial.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS
A. Schneider's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal
1. Standards applicable to motions for judgment of acquittal

The court has considered in detail the standards applicable to motions for judgment of acquittal, see United States v. Ortiz, 40 F.Supp.2d 1073 1078-79 (N.D.Iowa 1999) and United States v. Saborit, 967 F.Supp. 1136, 1138-40 (N.D.Iowa 1997), and will set forth the highlights of those discussions, as well as some more recent case law, here. Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

The court on motion of a 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). Although Rule 29 specifically provides for such eventualities, 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). Rather, the case law governing motions for judgment of acquittal confirms that a significant restraint is placed on a district court's authority to overturn a jury's verdict. See United States v. Gomez, 165 F.3d 650, 654 (8th Cir.1999) (observing that a judgment of acquittal should only be granted "if there is no interpretation of the evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt"); 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, 519 U.S. 1136, 117 S.Ct. 1004, 136 L.Ed.2d 882 (1997).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has therefore 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...

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