Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 07 CR 13-Theresa L. Springmann, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tinder, Circuit Judge.
Before POSNER, WOOD, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.
In the early afternoon of January 23, 2007, three men robbed a branch of Tower Bank in Fort Wayne, Indiana. During the robbery, at 1:49 p.m., police officers in the Northeast Indiana Federal Bank Robbery Task Force received an automated text message that the bank had been robbed and that a GPS system embedded in the stolen money was transmitting its location. The GPS was designed to begin transmitting its location as soon as it left the bank drawer where it was kept. Detective Robison, of the Task Force, used a handheld tracker to follow the GPS to the 4200 block of Darby Drive in Fort Wayne. He arrived there ten minutes from the time he received the text indicating the bank had been robbed and joined other law enforcement units that were already in the area at the time. The GPS indicated that it was transmitting within 50 feet of what the GPS identified as 4229 Darby Drive (there is no such address) when it stopped transmitting.
The GPS information, combined with fresh tire tracks at the scene (it was a snowy day), led Robison to believe that the bank robbers had entered the home at 4217 Darby Drive. The police staked out the location, ensuring that nobody came or went, and sought a warrant to enter the home. Fortuitously, Kenyatta Lewis, the 4217 homeowner, arrived home from work with his wife about three hours into the stakeout. The police asked him for permission to search the house, which he granted.
The police first entered the house through the garage, where (because of the tire tracks) the police believed the bank robbers entered. As the police prepared to enter the main part of the house, Joseph Lewis , Kenyatta's*fn1 cousin, walked into the garage and was promptly arrested. The police proceeded through the house to the second floor, where they arrested the defendant, Dontrell Moore, who was seated on the toilet in the bathroom, and Dawan Warren, who appeared to be sleeping in one of the bed-rooms.
In the room where Warren was found, the police spotted an access panel to the attic, and in the attic they found a variety of clothes that did not belong to the Kenyatta Lewis household, including two masks, a hat, a blue pair of nylon sweatpants with a white stripe, and a football jersey. They also found the smashed GPS transmitter taken from the bank, a black bag with an Ozark Trail label, a gun, bait money and money straps from the bank, and currency totaling $9,308. The police also found latex gloves (matching gloves a teller described on the robbers) in the car parked in the garage. The three men, Joseph Lewis, Dawan Warren, and Dontrell Moore, were indicted for bank robbery (count I) and using a firearm during a robbery (count II) and tried separately. At his trial, Moore was convicted of both counts.
He appeals, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to convict him on either count.
"A defendant faces a nearly insurmountable hurdle in challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction." United States v. Woods, 556 F.3d 616, 621 (7th Cir. 2009) (quotations and citation omitted). Moore must convince us that even "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, no rational trier of fact could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. "[W]e will overturn a conviction based on insufficient evidence only if the record is devoid of evidence from which a reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Farris, 532 F.3d 615, 618 (7th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).
Moore's appeal requires us to articulate the somewhat difficult-to-describe distinction between our role, on review, to correct errors in the trial process and the jury's role, at trial, to act as the final arbiters of the facts of any given case. Our deference to the jury's role is expressed most plainly in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979):
[T]he critical inquiry on review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction must be not simply to determine whether the jury was properly instructed, but to determine whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But this inquiry does not require a court to ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the relevant question is 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.
Id. at 318-19 (1979) (quotations and citations omitted) (emphasis in the original).
In other words, our task is not to determine whether or not we think Moore was actually guilty of the bank robbery; we must only ask whether a rational jury could have believed he was, and believed so beyond a reasonable doubt. A verdict may be rational even if it relies solely on circumstantial evidence. United States v. Robinson, 177 F.3d 643, 647 (7th Cir. 1999). The question we must answer is whether "each link in the chain of inferences" the jury constructed is "sufficiently strong to avoid a lapse into speculation." United States v. Jones, 371 F.3d 363, 366 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting United States v. Peters, 277 F.3d 963, 967 (7th Cir. 2002)). Complicating matters is that in circumstantial cases "we face head-on the ...