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United States v. Seals

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

October 18, 2017





         The matter before the court is Defendant Cordero Robert Seals's “Renewed Motion for Judgment of Acquittal” (“Motion”) (docket no. 57).


         On June 21, 2017, a grand jury returned a Superseding Indictment (docket no. 26) against Defendant. Count 1 charged Defendant with distribution of a controlled substance resulting in serious bodily injury in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 (a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). See Superseding Indictment at 1. Count 2 charged Defendant with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). Id. at 2. On July 17, 2017, a jury trial commenced. See July 17, 2017 Minute Entry (docket no. 45). On July 18, 2017, Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal. See July 18, 2017 Minute Entry (docket no. 47) at 3. The court reserved ruling on the motion as to the serious bodily injury enhancement on Count 1. Id.

         On July 19, 2017, Defendant renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of Defendant's case. See July 19, 2017 Minute Entry (docket no. 49) at 2. The court again reserved ruling as to the enhancement. Id. On July 19, 2017, the jury returned a verdict finding Defendant guilty of both counts charged in the Superseding Indictment. See Jury Verdicts (docket no. 53). On July 28, 2017, Defendant filed the Motion. On August 31, 2017, the government filed a Resistance (docket no. 62). On September 5, 2017, Defendant filed a Reply (docket no. 63). The matter is fully submitted and ready for decision.


         Viewed in the light most favorable to the government, the relevant trial evidence is as follows.

         On November 4, 2016, J.V. contacted Defendant to purchase heroin. J.V. picked up Defendant in a truck several blocks from a convenience store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and purchased approximately $40 worth of heroin. Shortly thereafter, J.V. and Defendant drove to the convenience store. At approximately 3:52 p.m., J.V. entered the convenience store bathroom. See Government Exhibits 1A-K (docket no. 49-2). While inside the bathroom, J.V. utilized the bottom of a pop can as a spoon and injected the substance he had purchased from Defendant. Testing of the can revealed heroin and fentanyl residue. See Government Exhibit 4 (docket no. 49-4).

         At approximately 3:56 p.m., J.V. returned to the truck and began to fill it with gas. See Government Exhibits 1A-K. At 3:57 p.m., J.V. collapsed. Id. J.V. became comatose, was breathing only four to six times a minute and was cyanotic. See Trial Transcript (docket no. 59) at 13. A convenience store employee called 911 and Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) subsequently arrived at the scene. EMS administered a substance called Naloxone to J.V. and he returned to a normal mental state within thirty to sixty seconds. Id. at 13-14.

         Based on this response to Naloxone, emergency physician Dr. Joshua Pruitt testified that J.V. was unresponsive from an opiate overdose. Id. at 13. Dr. Pruitt further concluded that “[s]ave for the intervention of trained medical personnel, [J.V.] would have continued in th[e] decreased mental status with decreased respiratory effort” leaving “a significant risk for . . . anoxic brain injury and death.” Id. at 14. Forensic Examiner Roman Karas later performed testing of J.V.'s blood, which revealed unknown quantities of methamphetamine, morphine, codeine, fentanyl and acetylfentanyl. Id. at 5.


         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. See 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. See 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 ...

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