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United States v. Cantrell

November 28, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
HERBERT A. CANTRELL



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Mattice

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Following a two-day jury trial held on April 3-4, 2007, Defendant was convicted on both counts of the two count Superseding Indictment. Count One of the Superseding Indictment charged Mail Fraud, in violation of U.S.C. § 1341. Count Two of the Superseding Indictment charged violation of the so-called Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952. Both counts alleged that Defendant Cantrell arranged to have his home burned in order to recover insurance proceeds, thereby committing arson.

Before the Court is the oral motion for judgment of acquittal of Defendant Herbert Anthony Cantrell. This motion represents Defendant Cantrell's renewal of his original motion for a judgment of acquittal which was made at the close of the Government's proof. On that occasion, the Court denied the Defendant's motion as to Count One of the Superseding Indictment but reserved ruling on Count Two in accordance with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(b).

In the instant motion, Defendant Cantrell contends that the Government failed to carry its burden of proof on Count Two of the Indictment. More specifically, Defendant Cantrell contends that his actions, as revealed by the evidence presented at trial, did not constitute a violation of the Travel Act. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant Cantrell's motion for a judgment of acquittal is DENIED,

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

(a) Before Submission to the Jury. After the government closes its evidence or after the close of all evidence, 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. The court may on its own consider whether the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction. . . .

(b) Reserving Decision. The court may reserve decision on the motion, proceed with the trial (where the motion is made before the close of all 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. . . .

(c) After Jury Verdict or Discharge. . . . A defendant may move for a judgment of acquittal, or renew such a motion, within 7 days after a guilty verdict or after the court discharges the jury, whichever is later. . . .

"A Rule 29 motion is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence." United States v. Graham, 125 F. App'x 624, 628 (6th Cir. 2005); United States v. Clay, 346 F.3d 173, 176 (6th Cir. 2003). Accordingly, in a jury trial, the appropriate standard for determining whether to grant such a motion is as follows: "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." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979); see also Graham, 125 F. App'x at 628; Clay, 346 F.3d at 176. Such a standard "gives full play to the responsibility of the trier of fact fairly to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts." Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. Thus, under such a standard, the court is not to "weigh the evidence, assess the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute [the court's] judgment for that of the jury." United States v. Salgado, 250 F.3d 438, 446 (6th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The court may properly conclude a conviction is supported by sufficient evidence even though the government has presented only circumstantial evidence, and even though such evidence does not exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt. Clay, 346 F.3d at 176; Salgado, 250 F.3d at 446.

In a jury trial, the standard for considering a motion for judgment of acquittal is the same regardless of whether the motion is made at the close of the government's evidence, at the close of all evidence, or after the jury returns a guilty verdict or is discharged. 2A Charles Alan Wright, Federal Practice & Procedure § 467 (3d ed. 2000). When the motion is made at the close of the government's case, the standard explained above essentially requires the court to determine whether the prosecution has established a prima facie case through the presentation of its own evidence. Id. § 462. When the motion is made after the jury has returned a guilty verdict, the standard explained above preserves the jury's role as weigher of the evidence "through a legal conclusion that upon judicial review all of the evidence is to be considered in the light most favorable to the prosecution." Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319.

II. FACTS

As Defendant Cantrell has clarified in his Brief of Defendant in Support of Motion to Supplement Rule 29 Motion [Court Doc. No. 37] at issue is whether an interstate telephone call which the Defendant placed to GEICO Insurance Company had a sufficient nexus to the ...


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