United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the court is Defendant Renita Blunt's motion for
judgement of acquittal or, in the alternative, for a new
trial (Doc. 140), following her trial and guilty jury verdict
on one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of
conspiracy to commit mail fraud. For the reasons stated
herein, the motion will be denied.
Relevant Facts and Procedural History
November 9, 2016, Blunt was charged in a thirty-one count
Second Superseding Indictment with twelve counts of mail
fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, ten counts of
money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1956(a)(1)(B)(i), three counts of aggravated identity theft
in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1), one count of
conspiracy to commit mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 1349, and one count of conspiracy to commit money
laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). (Doc.
63.) Blunt and co-defendant Earl Hall (“Hall”)
were accused of perpetrating a scheme between January 2013
and June 2015, which involved submitting counterfeit military
discharge certificates, bearing the names, dates of birth,
and social security numbers of eleven individuals, to
agencies in various states in order to fraudulently collect
unemployment compensation benefits for ex-service members.
commenced on March 6, 2017. During trial, Blunt moved for
judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal
Procedure 29 on all counts, but the court denied the motion.
Prior to trial, Blunt submitted a proposed jury instruction
for the defense of duress. (Doc. 98, pp. 5-7.) The Government
objected to this instruction and, after hearing arguments on
the issue, the court ruled that the duress instruction would
not be included in the jury charge. At the time the jury was
charged, Blunt noted her objection to the court's ruling.
On March 10, 2017, the jury found Blunt guilty of Count 26
for aggravated identity theft and Count 30 for conspiracy to
commit mail fraud. (Doc. 131.) She was acquitted of Counts 1
through 22, 28, 29, and 31. (Id.) The jury also
determined that Blunt was subject to asset forfeiture in the
amount of $1, 026.00 (Id.)
trial, the Government introduced an unemployment compensation
benefit for ex-service members (“UCX”) claim
submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and
Industry (“PA L&I”) under the identity of
Shawnta Williams. (Gov. Ex. 7.) Included in this claim was a
DD Form 214, which is a military discharge certificate, in
the name of Shawnta L. Williams with a date of birth of April
16, 1986. (Id.) The information provided by PA
L&I indicates that Shawnta Williams' claim was opened
on January 11, 2014, and closed on August 1, 2014, with total
payments of $14, 638. (Id.) Calls were made in
reference to this claim on January 22, 2014, January 24,
2014, March 31, 2014, and June 25, 2014. (Id.) The
Government presented a recording from the June 25, 2014 call
at trial. (Gov. Ex. 69.)
Agent Syreeta Scott (“SA Scott”) of the United
States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General
testified that she interviewed Blunt on March 3, 2016, at
which time Blunt admitted to posing as Shawnta Williams
during the June 25, 2014 call. (Trial Tr. Mar. 8, 2017, at p.
112.) Further, Blunt stipulated that she made the June 25,
2014 call. (Gov. Ex. 100.) During direct-examination, Blunt
testified that Hall communicated to her that Shawnta Williams
was not a real person and that Blunt's family would be
physically harmed if she did not make the phone call posing
as Shawnta Williams. (Trial Tr. Mar. 9, 2017, at pp. 57-59.)
However, on cross-examination, Blunt admitted she told SA
Scott during her interview on March 3, 2016, that Hall
informed her that Shawnta Williams was his cousin.
(Id. at 76-77.)
Government introduced Blunt's phone records and a summary
chart of those records indicating thirty-six phone calls were
made from Blunt's phone to phone numbers associated with
PA L&I, the Pennsylvania Office of Treasurer, and the
Hawaii Department of Labor between January 16, 2013, and
September 22, 2014. (See Gov. Exs. 54 & 83.)
Regarding the DD Form 214 for Shawnta Williams, Brian Hewitt,
United States Army Human Resources Command, testified that
there was no record of an individual possessing the personal
identifiers of Shawnta Williams having served in the Army.
(Trial Tr. Mar. 8, 2017, at p. 86.) Lastly, the Government
introduced a certified California Department of Motor
Vehicles driver's license in the name of Shawnta Denise
Williams with a date of birth of August 16, 1986, which
corresponded with the UCX claims submitted in that name.
(Gov. Exs. 7 & 53; Trial Tr. Mar. 8, 2017, at pp. 70-71.)
to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, the Court
“must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for
which the evidence is insufficient to sustain the
conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). The Third Circuit
has stated that the relevant inquiry in deciding a motion for
judgment of acquittal is “whether, after reviewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution,
any rational trier of fact could have found the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt.” United States v. McIntyre, 612 F.
App'x 77, 78 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v.
Caraballo-Rodriguez, 726 F.3d 418, 424-25 (3d Cir. 2013)
(en banc) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S.
307, 318-19 (1979)).
Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 provides that “the court
may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest
of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). A
district court “can order a new trial on the ground
that the jury's verdict is contrary to the weight of the
evidence 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. Johnson, 302 F.3d 139, 150 (3d Cir.
2002) (quoting United States v. Santos, 20 F.3d 280,
285 (7th Cir. 1994)).
trial should only be granted sparingly and in exceptional
situations. United States v. Silveus, 542 F.3d 993,
1005 (3d Cir. 2008); United States v. Brennan, 326
F.3d 176, 189 (3d Cir. 2003). Exceptional situations 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. Thornton, 1 F.3d
149, 156 (3d Cir. 1993); United States v. Amirnazmi,
648 F.Supp.2d 718, 719-20 (E.D. Pa. 2009).
motion seeking either judgment of acquittal or a new trial,
Blunt requests that the court set aside the guilty verdict to
the aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit mail
fraud charges, as well as the forfeiture finding. Blunt also
argues that the court erred by denying her requested ...