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United States v. Schmitt

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

June 21, 2013



DONALD E. O'BRIEN, Senior District Judge.

On May 16, 2013, a jury convicted the Defendant, Shirley Schmitt [hereinafter Ms. Schmitt], of Conspiracy to Manufacture and Distribute 50 Grams or More of Methamphetamine. The same jury also convicted Ms. Schmitt of Possession of Pseudoephedrine. On May 21, 2013, Ms. Schmitt filed a Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal, or in the alternate, a Motion for a New Trial. Docket No. 111. The parties' appeared for a hearing on the Defendant's Motions on June 14, 2013. After considering the parties' arguments, the Court took the matter under advisement and now enters the following.


Ms. Schmitt, makes two primary arguments. First, she argues that she should be acquitted pursuant to Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, because the Jury's verdict was based on speculation and surmise.' Second, Ms. Schmitt argues that she is entitled to a new trial because the Court improperly admitted pseudoephedrine logs into evidence.


A. Motion for Acquittal

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 provides in relevant part as follows:

The court on motion of a defendant or of its own motion shall order the entry of judgment of acquittal of one or more offenses charged in the indictment or information after the evidence on either side is closed if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of such offense or offenses...The court may reserve decision on the motion, proceed with the trial (where the motion is made before the close of all the evidence), submit the case to the jury, and decide the motion either before the jury returns a verdict or after it returns a verdict of guilty or is discharged without having returned a verdict. If the court reserves decision, it must decide the motion on the basis of the evidence at the time the ruling was reserved.

Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a)-(b). It is well-settled that "[j]ury verdicts are not lightly overturned." United States v. Hood , 51 F.3d 128, 129 (8th Cir. 1995). The case law governing motions for judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, imposes a significant constraint on the district court's authority to overturn a jury's verdict. See United States v. Perkins , 94 F.3d 429, 436 (8th Cir. 1996) ("[t]he standard of review of an appeal concerning the sufficiency of the evidence is very strict, and the verdict of the jury should not be overturned lightly.'"). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has instructed that "[t]he jury's verdict must be upheld if there is an interpretation of the evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Moore , 108 F.3d 878, 881 (8th Cir. 1997)

In considering a motion for judgment of acquittal based on the sufficiency of the evidence, the Court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict, giving the government the benefit of all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence." United States v. Basile , 109 F.3d 1304, 1310 (8th Cir. 1997). The court can overturn a jury's verdict only if "a reasonable fact-finder must have entertained a reasonable doubt about the government's proof'" of one of the essential elements of the crime charged. United States v. Kinshaw , 71 F.3d 268, 271 (8th Cir. 1995). Furthermore, as the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has observed, the standard applies even when the conviction rests entirely on circumstantial evidence. United States v. Wilcox , 50 F.3d 600, 602-03 (8th Cir. 1995).

In addition to allowing a conviction to be based on circumstantial and/or direct evidence, the Eighth Circuit has instructed that "[t]he evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis except guilt." United States v. Baker , 98 F.3d 330, 338 (8th Cir. 1996). The Court can neither weigh the evidence nor assess the credibility of the witnesses; these tasks belong exclusively to the jury. United States v. Agofsky , 20 F.3d 866, 869 (8th Cir. 1994). As another Court stated, "[a] trial court has neither the duty nor the authority to grant a motion for acquittal based on the credibility of a witness. United States v. Kirkie , 261 F.3d 761, 768 (8th Cir. 2001).

B. Motion for a New Trial

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 provides that, "[u]pon the defendant's motion, 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 is granted broad discretion in considering a motion for a new trial. United States v. Peters , 462 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 2006). A district court may "weigh the evidence, disbelieve witnesses, and grant a new trial even where there is substantial evidence to sustain the verdict." United States v. Campos , 306 F.3d 577, 579 (8th Cir. 2002) (quoting White v. Pence , 961 F.2d 776, 780 (8th Cir. 1992)) (internal quotation mark omitted). However, the court "should grant a new trial only if the evidence weighs heavily enough against the verdict that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.'" Peters , 462 F.3d at 957 (quoting United States v. Rodriguez , 812 F.2d 414, 417 (8th Cir. 1987)).

A district court enjoys more latitude in granting new trials under Rule 33 than in granting motions for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29; however, "[m]otions for new trials based on the weight of the evidence are generally disfavored." Campos , 306 F.3d at 579. District courts "must exercise the Rule 33 authority sparingly and with caution.'" Id., (quoting United States v. Lincoln , 630 F.2d 1313, 1319 (8th Cir. 1980)). ...

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