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United States v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 12, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DARRELL JOHNSON, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING (1) DEFENDANT'S ORAL MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AND (2) DEFENDANT'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL OR FOR NEW TRIAL (ECF ## 69, 80)

MATTHEW F. LEITMAN, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 27, 2014, Detroit Police Officers arrested Defendant Darrell Johnson ("Johnson") and his girlfriend Crystal Cooper ("Cooper") at their home in Detroit, Michigan. The next day, officers executed a search warrant at the home and discovered a loaded.357 Magnum revolver in a nightstand drawer in an upstairs bedroom. Johnson was subsequently charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 922(g). Johnson was initially tried before a jury in September 2014, but the Court declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict. ( See ECF #46.) Johnson was re-tried in December 2014.

In order to convict Johnson of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the government had to prove that (1) Johnson had a previous felony conviction, (2) the revolver had travelled in interstate commerce, and (3) Johnson knowingly possessed the firearm. See, e.g., United States v. Kincaide, 145 F.3d 771, 782 (6th Cir. 1998) (stating elements). The parties stipulated that the first two elements were satisfied ( see Trial Transcript, ECF #77 at 33-34, Pg. ID 772-773); therefore the only issue at trial was whether Johnson knowingly possessed the revolver.

The government's theory at trial was that Johnson and Cooper shared the bedroom in which the revolver was found, that Johnson had control over the nightstand in which the gun was found, and that Johnson constructively possessed the firearm. Johnson countered that Cooper's sister, Jessica Short ("Short"), lived in the bedroom where the gun was found, that he did not live in or have control over that bedroom or its contents, and that the gun belonged to Short or one of her male friends.

At the close of the government's case, Johnson orally moved for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. ( See the "Oral Acquittal Motion, " Tr., ECF #78 at 4, Pg. ID 964.) Johnson argued that the evidence, even viewed in the light most favorable to the government, was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he constructively possessed the gun. ( See id. at 4-9, Pg. ID 964-969.) The Court took the Oral Acquittal Motion under advisement. ( See id. at 13-14, Pg. ID 973-974.)

On December 4, 2014, the jury found Johnson guilty. ( See ECF #68.) On December 16, 2014, Johnson filed a renewed motion for a judgment of acquittal. ( See ECF #69.) Johnson thereafter replaced his appointed counsel with retained counsel and sought permission to file a supplemental brief in support of his motion. ( See ECF #74.) The Court granted that request and set a briefing schedule for Johnson's renewed motion on January 29, 2014. ( See ECF #75.)

On April 3, 2015, Johnson, through retained counsel, filed a "Motion for Acquittal Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a) or, in the Alternative, For New Trial Pursuant to Federal Rile of Criminal Procedure 33." ( See ECF #80, together with ECF #69, the "Written Acquittal Motions.") Johnson argues that the government failed to introduce sufficient evidence to sustain his conviction and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. ( See id. ) The government filed its response on May 1, 2015. ( See the "Response, " ECF #81.) The Court originally scheduled a hearing on Johnson's pending motions. After reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court concludes that a hearing is not necessary and that the Oral Acquittal Motion and the Written Acquittal Motions can be properly decided on the papers. See Local Rule 7.1(f)(2).

For all of the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Johnson's motions.

ANALYSIS

A. Johnson is Not Entitled to a Judgment of Acquittal

1. Governing Legal Standard

Johnson seeks a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. Under this rule, the Court "must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 29(a). A defendant moving for relief under this rule "bears a very heavy burden." United States v. Davis, 577 F.3d 660, 671 (6th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, "[i]n reviewing challenges regarding the sufficiency of the evidence presented to the jury" under Rule 29, the Court is "limited to ascertaining whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. (emphasis in original). The Court "must view all evidence and resolve all reasonable inferences in favor of the government." Id. Finally, the Court "cannot independently weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the jury." Id.

2. Johnson Has Not Satisfied His "Very Heavy Burden" to Show the Evidence at Trial Was Insufficient to Sustain a Conviction

In both the Oral Acquittal Motion and the Written Acquittal Motions, Johnson argues that "[a]lthough the [subject] firearm was located within" his residence, "the Government did not introduce sufficient evidence to overcome a reasonable doubt that [he] maintained possession of the weapon." (ECF #80 at 5, Pg. ID 1133.) According to Johnson, "the Government was able to provide only circumstantial evidence" that he constructively possessed the revolver, and "no evidence presented linked [him] with the firearm." ( Id. at 5-6, Pg. ID 1133-1134.) Johnson maintains, as he did at trial, that the bedroom in which the revolver was found belonged to Short, not to him, and thus no rational juror could have found that he constructively possessed the firearm. The Court disagrees.

"Constructive possession exists when a person does not have actual possession but instead knowingly has the power and the intention at a given time to exercise dominion and control over an object, either directly or through others." Kincaide, 145 F.3d at 771. "Proof that the person has dominion over the premises where the firearm is located is sufficient to establish constructive possession" of that firearm. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Such possession "may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence." United States v. Arnold, 486 F.3d 177, 181 (6th ...


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