United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
LINDA R. READE, District Judge.
The matter before the court is Defendant Patrelle Jose Green-Bowman's "Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and Motion for New Trial" ("Motion") (docket no. 80).
II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On October 9, 2013, the grand jury returned a two-count Superseding Indictment (docket no. 6) against Defendant. Count 1 charged Defendant with knowingly possessing a firearm after having been previously convicted of a felony in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Count 2 charged Defendant with knowingly possessing a shotgun with a barrel of less than 18 inches that was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5845(a), 5861(d) and 5871. The Superseding Indictment also included a forfeiture allegation.
On December 30, 2013, a jury trial commenced on Counts 1 and 2 of the Superseding Indictment. On December 30, 2013, at the close of the government's evidence and after Defendant represented to the court that he did not intend to present evidence, Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, which the court denied. December 30, 2013 Minute Entry (docket no. 65). On December 31, 2013, the jury returned guilty verdicts on Counts 1 and 2 of the Superseding Indictment. Jury Verdicts (docket no. 74).
On January 14, 2014, Defendant filed the Motion, in which Defendant "requests that the court grant [his] motion for judgment of acquittal on the grounds that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to establish all of the elements of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt." Motion at 1. Defendant also "conditionally and alternatively requests that the court grant him a new trial in the interest of justice on the ground that the jury verdict[s] [were] against the weight of the evidence." Id. On January 24, 2014, the government filed a Resistance (docket no. 84) to the Motion, arguing that there is sufficient evidence to sustain the jury's verdicts and that the verdicts did not go against the weight of the evidence. Defendant did not file a reply, and the time for doing so has expired. See LR 7(g). The Motion is fully submitted and ready for decision.
III. RELEVANT TRIAL EVIDENCE 
Viewed in the light most favorable to the government, the trial evidence showed that on August 2, 2013, officers from the Waterloo, Iowa police department were on foot patrol near Conger Street and Logan Avenue in Waterloo. The officers approached two vehicles, and the people near the vehicles appeared to be attempting to jump start one of the vehicles. As the officers approached the vehicles, they noticed that Defendant was talking on the phone while sitting in the back seat of one of the cars on the passenger side. Defendant was the only person sitting inside that vehicle, and when officers walked up to Defendant, he immediately stood up and walked away from the vehicle without saying anything to the officers.
The officers walked around the vehicle in which Defendant had been sitting, shined a flashlight into the back seat and noticed the handle of a shotgun protruding from underneath Defendant's Chicago Cubs coat. The shotgun was partially wrapped in the coat and had a sawed-off barrel measuring less than 18 inches in length.
The government also presented evidence of Defendant's prior acts pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) to show that Defendant was convicted of carrying weapons in Blackhawk County in 2011.
Finally, the government called Eric Webster and Clay Gilmer, two witnesses who were present at the scene where the gun was found. Webster refused to testify, and the court held him in civil contempt. See December 30, 2013 Minute Entry at 1. Gilmer testified that he did not remember most of the details from the events of August 2, 2013. In response to this testimony, the government impeached Gilmer with his prior statements before the grand jury.
IV. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL
A. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 provides that "the court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). Such a motion is permitted after trial, in which case the court may set aside the verdict and enter a judgment of acquittal. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c). It is well-settled that jury verdicts are not lightly overturned. See, e.g., United States v. Peneaux , 432 F.3d 882, 890 (8th Cir. 2005); United States v. Stroh , 176 F.3d 439, 440 (8th Cir. 1999). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government and give the government the benefit of all reasonable inferences. United States v. Peters , 462 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 2006). The court must uphold the jury's verdict so long as a reasonable-minded jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. Moreover, the court "must uphold the jury's verdict even where the evidence rationally supports two conflicting hypotheses' of guilt and innocence." Id. (quoting United States v. Serrano-Lopez , 366 F.3d 628, 634 (8th Cir. 2004)). It is not the province of the court to evaluate the credibility of witnesses-that task is for the jury. United States v. Hayes , 391 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir. 2004).
In the Motion, Defendant argues that the government did not present sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdicts. Specifically, Defendant contends that the government did not offer sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that he knowingly possessed the gun or that he knew that the gun had a barrel of less than eighteen inches. Defendant also contends that the government did not present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Defendant knew that the barrel of the gun was less than eighteen inches.
1. Knowing possession
Defendant contends that the government did not offer sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude "that the gun was placed [under the coat] by Defendant or that Defendant had the intention to exercise dominion and control over the gun to the exclusion of the other people at the scene." Brief in Support of the Motion (docket no. 80-1) at 6. Defendant argues that because the government did not present evidence of who placed the gun in the car, the government must "provide evidence that could preclude" the possibility "that another individual could have placed [Defendant's jacket] onto [the] gun." Id. at 5. In response, the government argues that "the evidence was sufficient to demonstrate [D]efendant's knowledge of, and control over, the sawed-off shotgun." Brief in Support of Resistance (docket no. 84-1) at 9. The government points to the location of the shotgun, the fact that the shotgun was wrapped in Defendant's coat and Defendant's actions upon being confronted by police as being sufficient to allow the jury to conclude that Defendant possessed the shotgun.
To convict Defendant of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the government was required to prove that: "(1) [Defendant] had previously been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year; (2) [Defendant] knowingly possessed a firearm...; and (3) the firearm... had been in, or had affected, interstate commerce." United States v. Daniels , 625 F.3d 529, 532-33 (8th Cir. 2010). The government and Defendant stipulated that Defendant had previously been convicted of a felony and that the firearm had been in or had affected interstate commerce. See Government Exhibit 11 (docket no. 65-8) and Government Exhibit 12 (docket no. 65-9). Because of these stipulations, the government only needed to prove that Defendant knowingly possessed the shotgun.
"Possession can be actual or constructive. Actual possession is the knowing, direct, and physical control over a thing." United States v. Serrano-Lopez , 366 F.3d 628, 634 (8th Cir.2004) (citation omitted). "Constructive possession is established by proof that the defendant had control over the place where the firearm was located, or control, ownership, or dominion of the firearm itself." United States v. Cox , 627 F.3d 1083, 1085 (8th Cir.2010). "Possession may be joint; it need not be exclusive, " [ United States v. ] Smart , 501 F.3d [862, ] 865 [(8th Cir. 2007)], and "may be based on circumstantial evidence which is intrinsically as probative as direct evidence.'" United States v. Bradley , 473 F.3d 866, 867 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Patterson , 886 F.2d 217, 219 (8th Cir.1989) (per curiam)).
United States v. Brown , 634 F.3d 435, 439 (8th Cir. 2011). "[T]he requisite knowledge can be inferred from a defendant's presence where contraband is discovered, when combined with other evidence.'" United States v. Smith , 508 F.3d 861, 867 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Stevens , 439 F.3d 983, 990 (8th Cir. 2006)).
Here, the evidence presented was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that Defendant possessed the firearm. The government presented evidence that the shotgun was found directly behind where Defendant was sitting in the car, the shotgun was mostly visible on the seat of the car and the shotgun was wrapped in Defendant's coat. The court agrees with Defendant that such evidence does not rule out the possibility that someone else may have placed the gun in Defendant's coat. However, the relevant inquiry is whether Defendant exercised dominion or control over the firearm, not whether Defendant placed the firearm in the coat. Moreover, because the jury could have found that Defendant possessed the firearm jointly, the government was not required to show that Defendant was the only person to possess the firearm. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict and according the government the benefit of all reasonable inferences, Defendant's proximity to the shotgun combined with the fact that the shotgun was visible on the seat of the car and it was wrapped in Defendant's coat was sufficient for the jury to find that Defendant possessed the shotgun. See, e.g., Brown , 634 F.3d at 439 (holding that evidence was sufficient to support jury ...