United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL 
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
three days of trial, a jury found Defendant James Wiggins
guilty of aiding and abetting a carjacking, but not guilty of
using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of
violence. ECF 51. Wiggins now moves under Rules 29 and 33 for
a judgment of acquittal, or in the alternative, for a new
trial. The Court has reviewed the briefs and finds that a
hearing is unnecessary. For the reasons below, the Court will
deny Wiggins's motion.
Acquittal Under Rule 29
principally moves under Rule 29(c)(1)(2) of the Federal Rules
of Criminal Procedure, a rule that permits a court to set
aside a guilty verdict and enter an acquittal. In reviewing a
motion under the rule, a court must ask "whether, after
viewing 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. Conatser, 514
F.3d 508, 518 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). The Court does not
"weigh the evidence, assess the credibility of the
witnesses, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the jury,
" but rather, draws every reasonable inference in favor
of the jury's verdict. Id. (citations omitted).
elements of aiding and abetting car-jacking are: (1) the
offense of carjacking was committed by some person; (2)
an act by the defendant that contributed to
the commission of the carjacking; and
(3) the defendant intended to aid in the commission
of the carjacking. 18 U.S.C. §§ 2,
2119(1); United States v. Bronzino, 598 F.3d 276,
279 (6th Cir. 2010). As a federal crime, the car must have
been "transported, shipped, or received in
interstate or foreign commerce[.]" 18 U.S.C.
§ 2119. Wiggins does not contest that someone indeed
committed a carjacking, but he argues that there was
insufficient evidence that the car traveled in interstate
commerce and that the two aiding-and-abetting
elements were not met as to him.
details of the carjacking came into focus through the
testimony of several witnesses. The complainant, Reginald
Carr, testified that two men had originally approached him in
his car, ostensibly seeking cigarettes, but that they left
after learning he might have a gun. ECF 60, PgID 347-48. Carr
testified that the shorter of the two men returned later and
stole his car. Id. at 350, 353-54. Katherine
Strickland saw the events unfold, and testified to seeing the
two men approach Carr's vehicle the first time.
Id. at 398. She also saw them approach a second time
and then heard gunshots. Id. at 398-99. She
testified that initially one of the two men got into the car,
but then the second man got in, too. Id. at 399-400.
Brian Menge of the Highland Park Police Department spoke with
Carr shortly after the incident and learned that
Carr's cell phone was taken along with the
vehicle. Id. at 486-87. Menge enlisted the aid of
the FBI's Violent Crimes Task Force in an
attempt to locate the car using cell-site data. Id.
at 489. Based on the data, the Detroit Police Department
pulled over a car. Id. at 497-98. The driver was
co-defendant Tyree Darrell, and Wiggins was in
the backseat. Id. at 498-99. Wiggins and
Darrell were brought in for questioning and Darrell explained
his involvement orally and in a written statement. ECF 61,
himself took the stand, too, and admitted that he was
testifying in conjunction with a plea agreement. ECF 60, PgID
at 410-11. He also admitted to being one of the two men who
had approached Carr; he identified Wiggins as the other.
Id. 416-17. During cross-examination, Darrell
admitted that he was not entirely truthful with law
enforcement officials shortly after his arrest, and
Wiggins's counsel elicited other allegedly
inconsistent testimony. See, e.g., id. at
436, 444-45, 461-62.
now takes issue with three alleged deficiencies in the
Government's evidence. First, he insists that
Darrell's inconsistencies precluded the jury
from believing his testimony beyond a reasonable doubt,
leading Wiggins to conclude that his own conviction was the
result of "other errors which occurred at trial[.]"
ECF 58, PgID 307. Second, Wiggins seems to claim that
there was insufficient evidence that the stolen vehicle
traveled in interstate commerce. ECF 58, PgID 309-10. And
third, Wiggins vaguely asserts that there was insufficient
evidence to identify him as an aider and abettor to Darrell.
Id. at 310-11.
the interstate-commerce argument, Agent Pennisi testified
that he discovered the car's VIN number by
researching its license plate, and a General Motors employee,
William Hohnstadt, testified that a car with that VIN number
would have been manufactured in Ohio. ECF 60, PgID 482.
Although Wiggins objected to Pennisi's testimony
on hearsay grounds, the objection was overruled, and Wiggins
did not address the matter on cross-examination. ECF 61, PgID
590, 592-94.The jury therefore had before it enough evidence
to find that the car traveled in interstate commerce.
jury also had enough evidence to find Wiggins was an aider or
abettor. The jury was made well aware of the alleged
inconsistencies of Tyree Darrell's testimony, and that he
testified in conjunction with a plea agreement. Those
circumstances may have made Darrell a less-than-perfect
witness, but they did not preclude the jury from believing
all or part of his testimony, and disbelieving others. The
jury also had before it the testimony of the arresting
officers, the cell-tracking data, and the accounts of Carr
and Strickland. When viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, the Court must conclude that a
rational jury could have found all the essential elements of
the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
final Rule 29 matter is that of the allegedly arbitrary or
irrational verdict. Wiggins asserts that convicting him of
aiding and abetting a carjacking while finding him not guilty
of using a firearm during and in relation to the carjacking
was irrational and inconsistent. ECF 58, PgID 311. To begin,
the split verdict is not necessarily
"inconsistent"-the jury could
have reasonably believed that Darrell fired the gun,
notwithstanding Darrell's own
telling. But even so, "inconsistent
verdicts are generally held not to be reviewable,
" United States v. Lawrence, 555 F.3d
254, 262 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing United States v.
Dykes, 406 F.3d 717, 722 (D.C. Cir. 2005) and collecting
other cases). Wiggins concludes that the split verdict was a
"windfall" for the Government,
but in situations like these, it is unclear whose
"ox has been gored" because a
"jury that inconsistently convicts the
defendant of one offense and acquits him of another is as
likely to have erred in acquitting him of the one as in
convicting him of the other." Id. at
261-62 (quoting United States v. Johnson, 223 F.3d
665, 675 (7th Cir. 2000). Thus, whether inconsistent or not,
Wiggins is not entitled to an acquittal.