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United States of America v. Krishna Mote

May 7, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
KRISHNA MOTE, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Defendant Krishna Mote's motion for a new trial. (Doc. 113). This matter is briefed and ripe for disposition.

Background

On June 7, 2011, a grand jury sitting in this district returned a two-count indictment against Defendant Krishna Mote (hereinafter "defendant"). (Doc. 1). Count I charged defendant with conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, more than 280 grams of cocaine base ("crack cocaine") in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A). Count II charged defendant with distributing, and possessing with the intent to distribute, crack cocaine as an aider and abettor in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The court issued an arrest warrant for defendant on the same day the grand jury returned the indictment. (Doc. 4). The government arrested defendant, and he made his initial appearance on September 22, 2011. (Doc. 11). The court ordered defendant detained, and he entered a not guilty plea. (Docs. 10, 13).

After several continuances, defendant proceeded to trial on December 4, 2012, wherein he represented himself.*fn1 On December 6, 2012, at the conclusion of the third trial day, the jury returned guilty verdicts on both counts. (Doc. 103). With regards to Count I, the jury found that the quantity of crack cocaine involved in the conspiracy exceeded 280 grams and that the quantity of cocaine exceeded 500 grams. (Id.)

In a letter dated December 9, 2012, defendant requested this court for a "sentencing Attorney." (Doc. 107). On December 17, 2012, the court received a pro se post-trial motion for a new trial that defendant dated December 11, 2012. (Doc. 108). The court granted defendant's request for counsel and reappointed Attorney Reish. (Doc. 109). On December 19, 2012, the court denied defendant's motion for a new trial without prejudice to counsel filing an amended motion within fourteen days. (Doc. 110). Defense counsel filed a motion for a new trial and a brief in support thereof. (Docs. 113, 121). The government filed a brief in opposition to defendant's motion, (Doc. 123), bringing this case to its current posture.

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 provides that "[u]pon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." FED. R. CRIM. P. 33(a). The defendant bears a heavy burden to demonstrate a new trial ought to be granted because the law presumes the verdict against him to be valid. See United States v. McCourty, 562 F.3d 458, 475-76 (2d Cir. 2009), cert. denied 130 S. Ct. 1012 (2009); WRIGHT & WELLING, FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 581 (4th ed. 2011).

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has cautioned district courts that Rule 33 motions are "not favored and should only be 'granted sparingly and only in exceptional cases.'" United States v. Silveus, 542 F.3d 993, 1005 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Gov't of Virgin Islands v. Derricks, 810 F.2d 50, 55 (3d Cir. 1987)). Exceptional cases include those in which trial errors, "either individually or in combination, 'so infected the jury's deliberations that they had a substantial influence on the outcome of the trial.'" United States v. Amirnazmi, 648 F. Supp. 2d 718, 719-20 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (quoting United States v. Thornton, 1 F.3d 149, 156 (3d Cir. 1993)).

Exceptional cases also consist of those in which the jury verdict is against the weight of the evidence. See Tibbs v. Florida, 457 U.S. 31, 38 n.12 (1982) ("some federal courts have interpreted Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which authorizes a new trial 'if required in the interest of justice,' to permit the trial judge to set aside a conviction that is against the weight of the evidence."). A district court is only empowered to grant a new trial based upon the verdict being contrary to the weight of the evidence when "'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. Davis, 397 F.3d 173, 181 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Johnson, 302 F.3d 139, 150 (3d Cir. 2002)). Unlike an insufficiency of the evidence claim, in which the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, a Rule 33 motion permits the court to exercise its own judgment in assessing the government's case. See Johnson, 302 F.3d at 150 (citing United States v. Lacey, 219 F.3d 779, 783-84 (8th Cir. 2000); United States v. Ashworth, 836 F.2d 260, 266 (6th Cir. 1988)).

Discussion

Defendant presents two grounds in support of his motion for a new trial. First, defendant asserts that the circumstantial evidence submitted to the jury was insufficient to prove defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, defendant contends a new trial is warranted because the court erred in admitting statements during the first day of the trial pursuant to ...


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