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United States v. Alexander

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

June 3, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
BRANDON LEE ALEXANDER

          MEMORANDUM OPINON AND ORDER

         The defendant, through counsel, filed a Motion for New Trial, or in the Alternative, For a Judgment of Acquittal. [Doc. 524]. The government has responded in opposition. [Doc. 615]. The matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, the defendant's motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         To review briefly, defendant was charged and tried with one count of possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of methamphetamine, one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, one count of possession with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of methamphetamine, and one count of felon in possession of a firearm[1]. On February 13, 2019, at the close of the government's case-in-chief, defendant made an oral motion for a judgment of acquittal which the Court denied. That same day, the jury convicted defendant of all counts. [Doc. 518]. Defendant subsequently filed this motion.

         II. Analysis

         A. Rule 33 Motions

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) states that a district judge may grant a new trial “if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). When faced with a Rule 33 motion, unlike a motion for judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, the district court may weigh the evidence and assess the credibility of the witnesses. United States v. Lutz, 154 F.3d 581, 589 (6th Cir. 1998) (“It has often been said that [the trial judge] sits as a thirteenth juror” when considering a Rule 33 motion.). Nonetheless, a defendant arguing that the verdict "was against the manifest weight of the evidence" must clear a high bar. United States v. Hughes, 505 F.3d 578, 593 (6th Cir. 2007) (Rule 33 motions are granted only in the "extraordinary circumstance where the evidence preponderates heavily against the verdict."). Courts have also interpreted Rule 33's broad "interest of justice" language to warrant new trials in a host of other circumstances. See United States v. Griffin, No. 15-CR-1-ART, 2015 WL 13358334, at * 1 (E.D. Ky. Apr. 29, 2015) (collecting cases). Ultimately, however, a new trial is a disfavored remedy, to be granted "with great caution." United States v. Fritts, 557 Fed.Appx. 476, 479 (6th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). The defendant bears the burden of proving that a new trial is warranted. United States v. Davis, 15 F.3d 526, 531 (6th Cir. 1994). Defendant briefly sets forth a slew of proposed new trial bases. The Court, for the following reasons, rejects each.

         1. The Court Erred in Allowing the Introduction of Evidence of the Cash, Safe, Methamphetamine, and WD-40 Can

         Defendant argues the Court should find the verdict against the manifest weight of the evidence based on essentially the same ground the Court rejected in its adoption of the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation, recommending the Court to deny defendant's motions to suppress numbers Two, Three, and Four. [Docs. 140, 142, 144, 356, 461, 524]. The government counters that the Court properly allowed the introduction of the evidence collected from the traffic stops. [Doc. 615 at 2-5].

         Defendant's entire argument in support of his motion for a new trial is:

1. The Court erred in allowing the introduction into evidence of the cash money (Government Exhibits Nos. 2 and 5) as well as the safe and contents of the safe (Government Exhibits Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9), and instead adopting the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge [Doc. 356] denying the Defendant's Motions to Suppress Nos. 2 and 3 [Docs. 140 and 142] after denying the Defendant's Objections to said Report and Recommendation in the Order entered on January 22, 2019 [Doc. 461].
2. The Court erred in allowing the introducing into evidence of the WD-40 can and methamphetamine taken therefrom (Government Exhibits Nos. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15-b), and instead adopting the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge [Doc. 356] denying the Defendant's Motion to Suppress No. 4 [Doc. 144] after denying the Defendant's Objections to said Report and Recommendations in the Order entered on January 22, 2019 [Doc. 461].

[Doc. 524 at 1-2]. The Court finds the defendant has failed to meet his burden of proving a new trial is warranted. Defendant has not identified how and why the alleged errors made by the Court with respect to the introduction of evidence, the suppression motions he filed, and the objections he made require a new trial. Defendant does not identify any evidence that would undermine the ability of the jury to find defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant does not explain how the verdict was “against the manifest weight of the evidence.” This is not a case in which extraordinary circumstances and the evidence preponderates heavily against the verdicts. See Hughes, 505 F.3d at 593. The Court concludes that the interests of justice do not require a new trial for defendant, nor were the jury's guilty verdicts against the manifest weight of the evidence. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a).

         2. The Court Erred by Denying Defendant's Special Jury Instruction

         Defendant argues the Court erred by denying defendant's request for a special jury instruction[2], [Doc. 495], because the evidence presented at trial warranted the jury to make a negative inference, as to audio and video evidence of defendant's traffic stops had been destroyed by the MPD. [Doc. 524 at 3]. The government contends the Court properly denied defendant's jury instruction request. [Doc. 615 at 10-12].

         A trial court has broad discretion in drafting jury instructions, and does not abuse its discretion unless the jury charge fails to accurately reflect the law. United States v. Leman, 2013 WL 1856123, at *4 (E.D. Ky. Apr. 30, 2013) (citing United States v. Ross, 502 F.3d 521, 528 (6th Cir. 2007); United States v. Beaty, 245 F.3d 617, 621 (6th Cir. 2001)). To satisfy his burden to show that the district court abused its discretion in its choice of jury instructions, a defendant must show that "the instructions, viewed as a whole, were confusing, misleading, or prejudicial." United States v. Freeman, 299 Fed.Appx. 556, 558 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Harrod, 168 F.3d 887, 892 (6th Cir. 1999)). "No single provision of the jury charge may be viewed in isolation, rather, the charge must be considered as a whole." Beaty, 245 F.3d at 621-22 (citing United States v. Lee, 991 F.2d 343, 350 (6th Cir. 1993)). An omission or an incomplete instruction is even less likely to be prejudicial than an overt misstatement of the law. Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 154-55 (1977).

         At the charge conference, the Court, from the bench, denied defendant's request for a special spoliation charge. The Court found that defendant's reliance on Third Circuit case law was misplaced and that the Sixth Circuit required a different standard for providing a spoliation instruction. The Court determined there was no showing of bad faith in MPD's destruction of the video and audio recordings of defendant's traffic stops. The Court specifically found MPD officer oversight and failure to preserve the recordings did not amount to the officers acting in bad faith. Further, more generally, the Court held that the mass data purge did not ...


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