United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT LEHRUE FREEMAN-PAYNE’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL OR FOR NEW TRIAL, ORDER DENYING PRO SE MOTION TO SUPPLEMENT RECORD, AND ORDER DENYING PRO SE MOTION FOR ENTRY OF DEFAULT
DENISE PAGE HOOD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
On August 13, 2013, a jury found Defendant Lehrue Freeman-Payne guilty of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Cocaine (less than 500 grams), 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 846(a)(1) (Count One) and guilty of Unlawful Use of a Communication Facility, 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) (Count Two) of the Second Superseding Indictment. (Doc. Nos. 309, 383) On August 14, 2013, the jury found that the currency seized from Defendant’s home in Sumpter Township, Michigan was not derived from the drug trafficking violation found in Count One. (Doc. No. 385)
On September 26, 2013, Freeman-Payne filed a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. Rule 29, or, in the alternative, a Motion for New Trial pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. Rule 33. This initial motion was filed by Freeman-Payne’s trial counsel. On November 26, 2013, the Court allowed trial counsel to withdraw and new counsel was appointed to represent Freeman-Payne. New counsel was thereafter allowed to file a supplemental brief, which was filed on April 18, 2014. The Government filed its response brief on August 18, 2014 and Freeman-Payne filed a reply on September 8, 2014.
In addition to briefs filed by Freeman-Payne’s counsel, pro se Motions to Supplement Pleadings and for Entry of Default were filed by Freeman-Payne. As this Court previously held in an order in this case, because Freeman-Payne is represented by counsel, the Court will not consider the pro se motions and briefs filed by Freeman-Payne, himself. See, Order, Doc. No. 425, 1/30/2015 (Denying pro se motions filed by Freeman-Payne.).
A. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29
Freeman-Payne requests a judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 based on insufficient evidence to support the guilty verdict in Count One, Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Cocaine (less than 500 grams). The Government responds that the elements of the crime were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
To support a motion for judgment of acquittal, the court must consider, “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. Caseer, 399 F.3d 828, 839-40 (6th Cir. 2005); Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). A defendant claiming insufficiency of the evidence bears a heavy burden. United States v. Jackson, 473 F.33d 660, 669 (6th Cir. 2007). The Court is bound to make all reasonable inferences and credibility choices in support of the jury’s verdict. Id. at 669-70. The question is merely one of legal sufficiency; the court does not substitute its judgment for that of the jury, independently weigh the evidence, or judge the credibility of trial witnesses. United States v. Ramirez, 635 F.3d 249, 255-56 (6th Cir. 2011). There is a strong presumption in favor of sustaining a jury conviction. United States v. Peters, 15 F.3d 540, 544 (6th Cir. 1994).
2. Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess With Intent to Distribute (Less Than 500 Grams of Cocaine) (Count I)
The Government must establish beyond a reasonable doubt at trial the essential elements of a conspiracy under 21 U.S.C. § 846: 1) that there was an agreement to violate federal narcotics laws; 2) that the defendant had knowledge of and intent to join the conspiracy; and, 3) that the defendant participated in the conspiracy. See, United States v. Welch, 97 F.3d 142, 148 (6th Cir. 1996). “A tacit or material understanding among parties to a conspiracy is sufficient to establish agreement.” United States v. Beals, 698 F.3d 248, 259 (6th Cir. 2012). Circumstantial evidence may establish an agreement if a reasonable interpretation of the evidence is that a defendant participated in a common plan. Id. “Testimony by co-conspirators alone can be sufficient to prove the existence of a conspiracy.” United States v. Copeland, 321 F.3d 582, 600 (6th Cir. 2003).
Freeman-Payne claims that the evidence at trial only shows he may be a drug user, not a participant of a conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Freeman-Payne asserts no drug ledgers were found at any of the houses associated with him; no marked money was found connected to him; no wiretap was introduced where he was heard to set up a sale; no surveillance occurred proving he sold or bought drugs; and the testimony at trial by co-conspirators Alexis Rodgers and Jose Rios do not establish conspiracy. Freeman-Payne asserts that the co-conspirators’ testimonies are discredited because they testified only to obtain substantial sentence reductions.
The Government argues that there was sufficient evidence at trial to prove Freeman-Payne participated in the conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The Title III interceptions of Rios’ phone calls between Rios and Freeman-Payne showed that Rios told Freeman-Payne he was coming back with workers. Rios testified that when his truck was intercepted on April 25, 2010, he stated that the drugs found in the truck were intended for Freeman-Payne and that Freeman-Payne would buy the cocaine and find additional buyers for the cocaine. Rios testified that there were prior transactions with Freeman-Payne and Rodgers in December 2009 and in February 2010. Rios testified that he had followed Freeman-Payne to his relative’s home in Detroit, Michigan where they kept and obtained cocaine from the home. The Government claims that Freeman-Payne ...