United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF
ACQUITTAL OR A NEW TRIAL (ECF NO. 290)
F. Cox United States District Court Judge
matter is currently before the Court on Defendant Christopher
Staton's motion for a judgment of acquittal or a new
trial. (ECF No. 290). For the reasons below, the Court will
deny Staton's motion.
September 17, 2019, a jury convicted Defendant Christopher
Staton of one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess
with intent to distribute at least 400 grams of a substance
containing a detectable amount of fentanyl. (ECF No. 286).
The jury acquitted Staton of two counts of making a false
statement to a federal agent. Id.
September 23, 2019, Staton filed a written motion for a
judgment of acquittal, under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, or a new
trial, under Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. (ECF No.
290). In his motion, Staton raises two main
arguments. First, he argues that the Government presented
insufficient evidence to establish that he was part of a
conspiracy to distribute narcotics because the Government did
not show that any of Staton's actions provided
“material assistance” to the conspirators during
the charged time period. Second, he argues that the
Court's pre-trial ruling that Staton had materially
breached his proffer agreement by lying to an FBI agent and
withholding information has become erroneous in light of the
jury's acquittal verdicts on the false-statement counts.
considering a motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29,
this Court must determine whether, after reviewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any
rational trier of fact could find the elements of the crime
beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. Abner,
35 F.3d 251, 253 (6th Cir. 1994); United States v.
Meyer, 359 F.3d 820, 826 (6th Cir. 1979). In doing so,
the Court does not weigh the evidence, consider the
credibility of witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that
of the jury. Id. The Sixth Circuit has explained
that a defendant claiming insufficiency of the evidence
“bears a very heavy burden.” Abner, 35
F.3d at 253. On review, all evidence must be construed in a
manner most favorable to the Government. Moreover,
circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to sustain a
allows the Court, upon Defendant's motion, to
“vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the
interest of justice so requires.” A Rule 33 motion
“may be premised upon the argument that the jury's
verdict was against the manifest weight of the
evidence.” United States v. Hughes, 505 F.3d
578, 592 (6th Cir. 2007). “Generally, such motions are
granted only ‘in the extraordinary circumstances where
the evidence preponderates heavily against the
verdict.'” Id. at 592-93 (quoting
United States v. Turner, 490 F.Supp. 583, 593 (E.D.
Mich. 1979)). “A district judge, in considering the
weight of the evidence for purposes of adjudicating a motion
for new trial, may act as a thirteenth juror, assessing the
credibility of witnesses and the weight of the
evidence.” Hughes, 505 F.3d at 593 (citing
United States v. Lutz, 154 F.3d 581, 589 (6th Cir.
1998)). Courts also “widely agree that Rule 33's
‘interest of justice' standard allows the grant of
a new trial where substantial legal error has
occurred.” See United States v. Munoz, 605
F.3d 359, 373 (6th Cir. 2010). Staton's first argument
appears to rest on Rule 29's insufficient-evidence
grounds and Rule 33's
against-the-manifest-weight-of-the-evidence grounds, while
his second argument appears to rest only on Rule 33's
Evidence of Staton's Participation in the Conspiracy
(Rules 29 and 33)
considered Staton's motion, and viewing all of the
evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to
the prosecution, the Court concludes that a rational trier of
fact could find the essential elements of the crime charged,
beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, a judgment of acquittal
under Rule 29 is not appropriate. And, assessing the
credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence, the
Court concludes that this case is not one of the
extraordinary circumstances where the evidence preponderates
heavily against the verdict. Thus, a new trial under Rule 33
is not appropriate.
arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive. Staton attempts
to shoehorn a “material assistance” element into
the crime of conspiring to violate the drug laws of the
United States. No. such element exists. To sustain a
conviction for drug conspiracy, the Government need only
prove “(1) an agreement to violate drug laws, (2)
knowledge and intent to join the conspiracy, and (3)
participation in the conspiracy.” United States v.
Potter, 927 F.3d 446, 453 (6th Cir. June II, 2019)
(quotations omitted). Even “proof of an overt act is
not required.” Id. (quoting United States
v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10, 17 (1994)). The Government
provided ample evidence, including wire-tap recordings of
conversations between Staton and other members of the
conspiracy, to satisfy all of the necessary elements and to
support the jury's verdict.
also argues that all of the evidence related to a
“fake” traffic stop that Staton performed
indicates that it took place “before the conspiracy was
active.” This argument ignores the language of the
indictment, which described the date of the conspiracy's
start as “an unknown date, but at least as early as
2012.” (ECF No. 275, PageID 1134). The evidence
indicated that the stop took place in either 2012 or 2013.
The Court fails to see how this timeline is not consistent
with the jury's verdict.
Court concludes that Staton is not entitled to a judgment of
acquittal or a new trial based on the evidence (or alleged
lack thereof) presented by the Government.
Admission of Evidence Obtained During Proffer ...