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United States v. Johnson

May 26, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOHN R. JOHNSON



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant John Johnson ("Johnson" or "Defendant") was charged in an Indictment with one count of distribution of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count I); one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (1 count) (Count II); one count of using and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count III); and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count IV).

The charges arose out of an incident on February 3, 2007, in Cheltenham Township, where Defendant allegedly distributed cocaine to an undercover police officer with a confidential informant. Defendant was later arrested on February 9, 2009, allegedly with a bag of cocaine and a firearm.

On March 22, 2010, a jury convicted Johnson of all charges. At the close of the Government's case, Johnson moved under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a) for a judgment of acquittal, which the Court denied (doc. no. 50). Johnson now moves for a judgment of acquittal or for a new trial under Rules 29(c) and 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

In deciding a motion for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29, a court must view all of the evidence introduced at trial in the light most favorable to the Government and uphold the verdict so long as any rational trier of fact "'could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the available evidence.'" United States v. Smith, 294 F.3d 473, 476 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Wolfe, 245 F.3d 257,262 (3d Cir. 2001)). "The court is required to 'draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the jury's verdict.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Anderskow, 88 F.3d 245, 251 (3d Cir. 1996)). The court may not "usurp the role of the jury" by weighing the evidence or assessing the credibility of witnesses. United States v. Brodie, 403 F.3d 123, 133 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing United States v.. Jannotti, 673 F.2d 578, 581 (3d Cir. 1982) (en banc); and 2A Charles A. Wright, Federal Practice & Procedure (Crim.3d) § 467, at 311 (2000)). Thus, the defendant bears an "'extremely high'" burden when challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a jury verdict, United States v. Iglesias, 535 F.3d 150,155 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Lore, 430 F.3d 190,203-04 (3d Cir. 2005)), and the Government "may defeat a sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge on circumstantial evidence alone," id. at 156 (citing United States v. Bobb, 471 F.3d 491, 494 (3d Cir. 2006)). A finding of insufficiency therefore "should 'be confined to cases where the prosecution's failure is clear.'" Smith, 294 F.3d at 477 (quoting United States v. Leon, 739 F.2d 885, 891 (3d Cir. 1984)).

Pursuant to Rule 33, the Court may grant a new trial upon the defendant's motion "if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. "'Whether to grant a Rule 33 motion lies within the district court's sound discretion.'" United States v. Ortiz, 182 F. Supp. 2d 443, 446 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (citation omitted). A court must grant a motion for new trial if it finds that there were cumulative errors during the trial that, "'when combined, so infected the jury's deliberations that they had a substantial influence on the outcome of the trial.'" United States v. Copple, 24 F.3d 535, 547 n.17 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting United States v. Thornton, 1 F.3d 149, 156 (3d Cir. 1993)). In evaluating a Rule 33 motion, the court does not view the evidence favorably to the Government, but rather exercises its own judgment in evaluating the Government's case. United States v. Johnson, 302 F.3d 139, 150 (3d Cir. 2002). "However, even if a district court believes that the jury verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence, it can order a new trial 'only if it believes that there is a serious danger that a miscarriage of justice has occurred-that is, that an innocent person has been convicted.'" United States v. Silveus, 542 F.3d 993, 1004-05 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Johnson, 302 F.3d at 150).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

1. Background

Before trial, the Court denied Defendant's motion to suppress the physical evidence based on the contention that the Cheltenham police lacked proper jurisdiction to arrest the Defendant in Philadelphia. (See doc. no. 45.) Again, Defendant argues that the Cheltenham police lacked jurisdiction to arrest him across the county line in Philadelphia. At trial, Cheltenham police officers claimed that several Philadelphia police officers helped them plan and execute the Defendant's arrest. Moreover, the affidavit of probable cause indicates that arrangements were made with the Philadelphia Police Department for the Cheltenham police to enter Philadelphia County. Defendant highlights that there was no corroborating evidence, by way of paperwork or testimony, that Philadelphia police officers consented to his arrest in Philadelphia.

2. Legal Standard

The Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act ("MPJA"), 42 Pa. C.S. § 8953, authorizes inter alia:

Any duly employed municipal police officer who is within this Commonwealth, but beyond the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction, shall have the power and authority to enforce the laws of this Commonwealth or otherwise perform the functions of that office as if enforcing those laws or performing those functions within the territorial limits of his primary jurisdiction in the following cases:

(1) Where the officer is acting pursuant to an order issued by a court of record or an order issued by a district magistrate whose magisterial district is located within the judicial district wherein the officer's primary jurisdiction is situated, or where the officer is otherwise acting pursuant to the requirements of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, except that the service of an arrest or search warrant shall require the consent of the chief law enforcement officer, or a person authorized by him to give consent, of the organized law enforcement agency which regularly provides primary police services in the municipality wherein the warrant is to be served.

(4) Where the officer has obtained the prior consent of the chief law enforcement officer, or a person authorized by him to give consent, of the organized law enforcement agency which provides primary police services to a political subdivision which is beyond that officer's primary jurisdiction to enter the other jurisdiction for the purpose of conducting official duties which arise from official matters within his primary jurisdiction.

(6) Where the officer views an offense which is a felony, or has probable cause to believe that an offense which is a felony has been committed, and makes a reasonable effort to identify himself as a police officer.

42 Pa.C.S. § 8953(a).

The MPJA is construed liberally. See Commonwealth v. Peters, 915 A.2d 1213, 1222 n.2 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007); Commonwealth v. McHugh, 605 A.2d 1265 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992). Specifically, one of the principle objectives to be obtained by this Act is to ...


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