The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo
Presently before the Court are defendant Matthew Nestor's and defendant William Moyer's motions for judgment of acquittal or a new trial. (Docs. 301 and 303.) For the reasons set forth below, these motions will be denied.
On December 10, 2009, a federal grand jury sitting in the Middle District of Pennsylvania returned an indictment charging Matthew Nestor, Jason Hayes, and William Moyer with Falsifying Records in a Federal Investigation under 18 U.S.C. § 1519; Aiding and Abetting; and Conspiracy to violate § 1519 under 18 U.S.C. § 371. The underlying investigation had concerned the racially motivated beating death of Luis Ramirez, a federal crime within the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), an agency of the United States. The indictment also charged William Moyer individually with Attempting to Conceal a Physical Object under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c); Obstruction of Justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3); and False Statements under 18 U.S.C. § 1001.
Following a two-week jury trial, on January 27, 2011 Defendant Nestor was found guilty of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1519 and acquitted on the Conspiracy count. Defendant Moyer was found guilty of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 and acquitted on the other counts. Defendant Hayes was acquitted on all counts. Following the jury's verdict, defendants Nestor and Moyer both moved for a judgment of acquittal, as they had done at the close of the government's case and again before jury deliberations commenced. They also both filed motions for a new trial. These motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for review.
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) provides that "if the jury has returned a guilty verdict, the court may set aside the verdict and enter an acquittal." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c)(2). In ruling on a motion for judgment of acquittal made pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, a district court must " 'review the record in the light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the available evidence.' " U.S. v. Smith, 294 F.3d 473, 476 (3d Cir.2002) (quoting United States v. Wolfe, 245 F.3d 257, 262 (3d Cir.2001)). While the evidence needs to be "substantial," U.S. v. Eufrasio, 935 F.2d 553, 577 (3d Cir. 1991), it "need not unequivocally point to the defendant's guilt as long as it permits the jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Eufrasio, 935 F.2d at 577 (citing U.S. v. Pungitore, 910 F.2d 1084,1129 (3d Cir. 1990)).
The Third Circuit has advised trial courts to be vigilant in the context of Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 not to usurp the role of the jury by weighing credibility and assigning weight to the evidence, or by substituting its judgment for that of the jury. See United States v. Jannotti, 673 F.2d 578, 581 (3d Cir.) (en banc); see also 2A Charles A. Wright, Fed. Prac. & Pro. (Criminal 3d) § 467 at 311 (2000) ("A number of familiar rules circumscribe the court in determining whether the evidence is sufficient ... It is not for the court to assess the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence or draw inferences of fact from the evidence. These are functions of the jury."). Given the deference to the jury's decision this standard entails, the Third Circuit has recently elaborated: "[A]n insufficiency of the evidence claim places a heavy burden on the appellant because we will only find the evidence insufficient when the prosecution's failure is clear." United States v. Mercado, 610 F.3d 841, 845 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing United States v. Soto, 539 F.3d 191, 194 (3d Cir.2008)).
Fed. R. Crim. P. 33 authorizes a district court to grant a new trial "if the interests of justice so require." "Unlike an insufficiency of the evidence claim, when a district court evaluates a Rule 33 motion it does not view the evidence favorably to the Government, but instead exercises its own judgment in assessing 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." Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). Rule 33 motions are generally not favored and should be "granted sparingly and only in exceptional cases." Gov't of Virgin Islands v. Derricks, 810 F.2d 50, 55 (3d Cir.1987) (citations omitted).
I. Defendant Nestor's Motion for a Judgment of ...