directly scrutinizing the workings of the human mind. In determining . . . what a person intended at a particular time, [it is appropriate] to consider any statements made or acts by that person and all other facts and circumstances received in evidence . . . ." Edward J. Devitt, et al., Federal Jury Practice and Instructions § 17.07 (1992). The court has searched the record in vain for any evidence to support a reasonable inference that defendant intended to exercise control over the stolen mail within the five years preceding the indictment. Indeed, the record indicates the contrary.
There is certainly no direct evidence that defendant intended to exercise control. No witness testified that defendant ever did or said anything to indicate that he was mindful of where the mail had been discarded or intended to return to it after he disposed of it in 1987 and 1988. More important, defendant did keep property at the House over which he intended to exercise control, but that property was kept under lock and key. The only inference that can be drawn from this undisputed evidence is that when plaintiff recognized that he had property worth preserving that he kept at the House, he secured that property.
The stolen mail, which was discovered in a deteriorated condition, obviously did not fit into the category of property defendant wished to secure. It was abandoned under an open porch which, taking the government's evidence at its best, was secured by a flimsy chicken wire fence that the photograph indicates was easily removed by natural or human forces. Although the government is correct in pointing out that anyone wishing to access the area beneath the porch would have had to trespass on defendant's property, that would appear to have been an easy matter. Certainly, no one wishing to secure property or exercise control over it would throw it under an open porch as defendant did with the stolen mail. Defendant no more wished to control this mail than if he had dumped it in a river or buried it in the woods--out of sight, out of mind, abandoned to the elements.
It should also be noted that plaintiff never used any of this mail. Although there were checks, train tickets and, perhaps, other valuables contained within the mail, none of the mail was opened, and there is absolutely no evidence that plaintiff converted any of it to his personal use. Nor is there any evidence that plaintiff ever revisited the area where he dumped the mail, as he did with the secured portions of the House that he visited to retrieve and peruse personal property he intended to control.
The court does not lightly disturb the verdict of a jury that heard the evidence and the witnesses. In the instant case, unlike most, there are several factors which impugn the verdict in addition to the lack of evidence noted above. First, the witnesses' credibility was never a serious issue in this case. The facts are basically uncontested, and the defendant--the only person who knows the truth--exercised his Fifth Amendment right not to take the stand.
In addition, the court is disturbed by the extraordinarily short time taken by the jury to reach its decision. In the ten minutes or so between the time the jury left the courtroom and the time the court security officer informed the court that a verdict had been reached, the jury would hardly have had enough time to choose a foreperson and review the instructions. It was not possible--especially in light of the relatively complicated nature of the evidence relating to constructive possession--that the jurors actually "deliberated" the evidence, as they were instructed to do.
It appears to the court that the jury convicted defendant of stealing the mail in 1987 and 1988--of which there was little doubt--rather than of possessing the mail after July 26, 1990. Although brief jury deliberation is not, in itself, sufficient basis to disturb a verdict, "when brief jury deliberation is coupled with a verdict that is contrary to the great weight of the evidence . . . it creates a situation where the district court has an affirmative duty to set aside the verdict." Kearns v. Keystone Shipping Company, 863 F.2d 177, 182 (1st Cir. 1988). Such is the case here.
In reluctantly reaching its decision, the court does not wish to minimize in any way the maliciousness of defendant's conduct. It is hard to imagine a more personal crime than stealing someone's mail. In the instant case, the stolen mail included welfare and Medicare checks, bills and overdue notices, wedding responses, personal correspondence, tax documents, and a scholarship nomination letter, among other items. The intended recipients have never received this important mail, no doubt causing great inconvenience and embarrassment, and most likely actual damage, to these innocent postal patrons. Defendant should be condemned for his dereliction of the sacred duty assumed by all postal carriers.
This condemnation, however, cannot overcome the fact that we are bound by the law, including the statute of limitations, that governs all criminal proceedings. That defendant has escaped the punishment he so richly deserves is not as important as the observance of the law. While it is disturbing that anyone can beat the rap by the passage of enough time to invoke the statute of limitations, the principles underlying limitations of criminal and civil actions have been deemed for generations to supersede the possibility that the guilty may indeed go free. The law "protects individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may have become obscured by the passage of time and to minimize the danger of official punishment because of acts in the far-distant past." Toussie v. United States, 397 U.S. 112, 114-115, 25 L. Ed. 2d 156, 90 S. Ct. 858 (1970). Thus, statutes of limitation applying to criminal prosecutions should be "liberally construed in favor of repose." United States v. Scharton, 285 U.S. 518, 522, 76 L. Ed. 917, 52 S. Ct. 416 (1932).
By enacting 18 U.S.C. § 3282, Congress has determined that a person cannot be prosecuted if the crime for which he or she is charged took place more than five years before the indictment was returned. The jury in the instant case was presented with no evidence from which it could have determined that defendant had constructive possession of the stolen mail after July 26, 1990. Its verdict of guilty, therefore, cannot stand.
For the foregoing reasons, the court grants defendant's motion for acquittal, and denies defendant's motion for a new trial as moot.
ENTER: February 26, 1996
Robert W. Gettleman
United States District Judge
JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL
The Court having granted defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Fed. R. Crim P. 29(c),
IT IS ORDERED that the Defendant is acquitted, discharged, and any bond exonerated.
February 26, 1996