United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.
We are considering a motion for judgment of acquittal and a motion for new trial. (Doc. 1034). On November 28, 2012, the Grand Jury returned a superseding indictment in which Defendant Shaine Williams was charged with various drug-related offenses. (Doc. 244). In Count One of the indictment, he was charged with criminal conspiracy to distribute cocaine hydrochloride and crack cocaine. (Id.). In Count Two, he was charged with distribution of cocaine hydrochloride and crack cocaine. (Id.). In Count Three, he was charged with criminal conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. (Id.). And in Count Four, Defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. (Id.).
On December 11, 2014, at the conclusion of a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of the following: conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine; conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride; distribution of five kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride; and conspiracy to commit money laundering. (Doc. 990). On December 28, 2014, Defendant filed a motion for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 and a motion for new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. (Doc. 1035). First, he claims that he is entitled to a judgment of acquittal on the charge of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. According to Defendant, there was no testimony presented at trial to establish that he knowingly conspired to distribute crack cocaine. (Doc. 1056 at 4; 1081 at 2). Second, Defendant claims that he should be granted a new trial on the remaining counts. (Doc. 1035). He asserts that a new trial is warranted for two reasons: (1) we committed errors at trial; and (2) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. (Doc. 1056 at 5; 1081 at 5). For the reasons discussed below, we will deny Defendant's motions.
A. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal
Pursuant to Rule 29, a court "must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). When evaluating whether the evidence is sufficient, we ask whether any rational juror could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. Caraballo-Rodriguez, 726 F.3d 418, 430 (3d Cir. 2013). To make this determination, we must consider the evidence as a whole, "we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, and [we] must presume that the jury has properly carried out its functions of evaluating credibility of witnesses, finding the facts, and drawing justifiable inferences." United States v. Coleman, 811 F.2d 804, 807 (3d Cir. 1987); see also id. If the evidence is substantial, a rational juror could have found proof of each element beyond a reasonable doubt, and we must sustain the verdict. Caraballo-Rodriguez, 726 F.3d at 430 (citing United States v. Gambone, 314 F.3d 163, 170 (3d Cir. 2003)). Only when the jury's verdict "fall[s] below the threshold of bare rationality, " should we enter a judgment of acquittal. Coleman v. Johnson, 132 S.Ct. 2060, 2065 (2012).
Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine has three essential elements. See THIRD CIR. MODEL CRIM. JURY INSTRUCTION § 6.21.846B (2014). One, an agreement between two or more people to distribute crack cocaine. Id . Two, the defendant was a party to or a member of that agreement. Id . And three, the defendant joined or participated in the conspiracy knowing its objective was to distribute crack cocaine and intending to achieve that objective. Id . Here, viewing the evidence as a whole, we find that a rational juror could find each element beyond a reasonable doubt.
First, the evidence introduced at trial established that co-defendant John Rawls agreed to sell kilogram quantities of cocaine hydrochloride to co-defendants Antwaun Byrd and Adrian Totton. The cocaine was transported, via courier, from Atlanta, Georgia to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Upon receipt, Byrd and Totton distributed the cocaine in either powder or crack form. The existence of this agreement and the operative details thereof were testified to by no less than five co-defendants. Their testimony, in turn, was corroborated by telephone records, telephonic recordings, evidence of three kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride seized from co-defendant Cedric Hawkins, and evidence of three kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride seized from John Rawls' home. Accordingly, there was substantial evidence of an agreement between two or more people to distribute crack cocaine.
Next, there was evidence that Defendant transported cocaine between Atlanta and Harrisburg. The jury heard testimony that following the arrest of drug courier Cedric Hawkins, Defendant contacted John Rawls and offered to replace Hawkins as the courier. Rawls testified that he accepted Defendant's offer, and on numerous occasions, Defendant transported money and cocaine between Atlanta and Harrisburg. Rawls' testimony was corroborated by telephone records, extensive travel records, and the testimony of multiple co-defendants. Accordingly, there was substantial evidence that Defendant was a member of the agreement.
Last, the jury heard testimony that co-conspirators took the cocaine transported by Defendant, reduced it to cocaine base, packaged it for sale, and sold it as crack cocaine. We admitted this evidence pursuant to United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364 (1948). Gypsum tells us that "the declarations and acts of various members, even though made or done prior to the adherence of some to the conspiracy[, ] become admissible against all as declarations or acts of co-conspirators in aid of the conspiracy." U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. at 393. Accordingly, at the conclusion of trial, we instructed the jury that they may treat the acts of co-conspirators selling crack cocaine as Defendant's own actions. Considering this evidence, our instructions, and the circumstantial evidence discussed above, a rational juror could conclude that Defendant knew the object of the conspiracy was to distribute cocaine in both powder and crack form and that he joined intending to achieve that objective. See Caraballo-Rodriguez, 726 F.3d at 431 (stating that a defendant's knowledge need not be proven by direct evidence and is often proven by circumstances).
Because we find that the jury's verdict did not fall below the threshold of bare rationality, we will deny Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal.
B. Motion for New Trial
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, a "court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. The first argument that Defendant makes in support of his Rule 33 motion is that we committed errors at trial. A new trial is required on this ground only when (1) there was in fact an error at trial, and (2) the error so infected the jury's deliberations that it had a substantial influence on the ...