Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Benanti

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

July 13, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL BENANTI, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS A. VARLAN, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This criminal case is before the Court on the defendant's pro se motion for new trial [Doc. 169]. The government responded in opposition [Doc. 171], and the defendant replied [Doc. 179]. The defendant also filed a motion for leave to file late exhibits [Doc. 187], motions to amend/supplement his reply [Docs. 181, 194], and a motion to postpone his sentencing, set for July 18, 2017 [Doc. 193]. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court will deny the defendant's motion for a new trial and will decline to postpone his sentencing.[1] The Court, however, will consider the defendant's late-filed exhibits and his amended replies.

         I. Background[2]

         The defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and extortion (Count One); possession of a firearm in furtherance of the conspiracy (Count Two); attempt to commit bank extortion (Counts Three and Seventeen); use of a firearm in furtherance of attempt to commit bank extortion (Counts Four and Eighteen); bank extortion (Count Ten); use of a firearm in furtherance of bank extortion (Count Eleven); carjacking (Counts Five, Twelve, and Nineteen); use of a firearm in furtherance carjacking (Counts Six, Thirteen, and Twenty); kidnapping (Counts Seven, Fourteen, and Twenty-One); use of a firearm in furtherance of kidnapping (Counts Eight, Fifteen, and Twenty-Two); and being a felon in possession of a firearm (Counts Nine, Sixteen, and Twenty-Three) [Doc. 30]. On January 31, 2017, the defendant proceeded to a jury trial [Doc. 120], and on February 14, 2017, the jury found the defendant guilty on all counts [Doc. 143].

         On May 9, 2017, the Honorable Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley, Jr. ruled that the defendant may represent himself with regard to his motion for a new trial, but the defendant's attorneys continue to represent him on all other matters [Doc. 163 p. 7]. Judge Shirley also allowed the defendant to file an amended motion for new trial, which would replace his prior pro se filings [Docs. 151, 154]. Thus, the Court will rule exclusively on the substance of the defendant's latest-filed pro se motion [Doc. 169].

         II. Standard of Review

         Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that, “[u]pon the defendant's motion, the [C]ourt may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a).[3] The decision to grant a Rule 33 motion is left to the sound discretion of the Court, United States v. Wheaton, 517 F.3d 350, 361 (6th Cir. 2008), and the defendant bears the burden of proving that a new trial should be granted. United States v. Davis, 15 F.3d 526, 531 (6th Cir. 1994).

         III. Analysis

         In support of his motion, the defendant argues that the Court should grant him a new trial based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically, he contends that the prosecution acted improperly in three primary manners: (1) including false statements in a search warrant affidavit and reiterating such falsities during a related suppression hearing, [4](2) concealing evidence of a third perpetrator, and (3) vouching for the credibility of government witness and co-defendant Brian Witham during closing arguments. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn, and it will then consider certain miscellaneous claims made by the defendant.

         A. False Statements in Search Warrant Affidavit

         First, the defendant argues that the government submitted knowingly false statements in a search warrant affidavit for 380 Allison Drive (“Southern Comfort”) and that the government reinforced these falsities at a later evidentiary hearing [Doc. 169 pp. 4-5]. In particular, the defendant claims that the government misconstrued global positioning system (“GPS”) data extracted from a GPS unit found in the Ford Edge abandoned during a high-speed chase [Id. at 6]. According to the defendant, the GPS data merely showed tracks on Rebel Ridge Road, not tracks directly leading to 124 Rebel Ridge Road. Thus, the defendant contends that the government agent made a false statement when he wrote that the GPS revealed “a track to the address of 124 Rebel Ridge Road, ” and the government improperly reinforced this false statement during the June 2, 2016, suppression hearing before Judge Shirley [Id. at 7-8]. The defendant claims that these falsities were “the only link between the GPS and 124 Rebel Ridge Road” and that the false statements were, therefore, material to the issuing magistrate's finding of probable cause to search Southern Comfort [Id. at 11].

         The defendant also argues that the affidavit: (1) falsely stated that two men placed a deposit on Southern Comfort, (2) inaccurately described surveillance conducted at Southern Comfort, and (3) falsely alleged that law enforcement identified Witham as the driver of the Ford Edge. He specifically requests a Franks hearing on this matter [Id. at 6 (citing Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978))].[5]

         In response to this argument, the government asserts that the defendant has demonstrated nothing more than potential “minor inconsistencies that do not negate the finding of probable cause, ” which is inadequate to justify a Franks hearing [Doc. 171 p. 2]. The government notes that neither the affidavit nor the prosecution during oral argument claimed that the GPS included a way point at 124 Rebel Ridge [Id. at 3]. Rather, both alleged several tracks that led to and around the address [Id.].

         With regard to the issue of whether the affidavit incorrectly stated that two men placed a deposit on Southern Comfort, the government asserts that the defendant's “hyper-technical parsing of the affidavit's words regarding the information provided by Melissa Pless does not render the affidavit false or misleading” [Id. at 4]. As to the affidavit's description of the surveillance of Southern Comfort, the government contends that the defendant merely alleges that surveillance notes reflect multiple visitors at Southern Comfort, while the affidavit states that there were two men at the cabin, which does not demonstrate falsity [Id. at 4-5]. Finally, the government contends that the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.