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United States of America v. Ramon Calderon

June 28, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RAMON CALDERON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendant Ramon Calderon's (Calderon) post-trial motions. For the reasons stated below, the motions are denied.

BACKGROUND

On April 16, 2012, a jury trial began for Calderon. On April 26, 2012, Calderon was found guilty by a jury on Counts One and Two of the Superseding Indictment. Count One charged Calderon with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and Count Two charged Calderon with attempt to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Calderon now moves for a judgment of acquittal, and requests in the alternative a new trial.

LEGAL STANDARD

A defendant in a criminal case who has been found guilty by a jury may move for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) (Rule 29(c)). Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c). If the defendant is challenging the sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial, the court must "consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, drawing all reasonable inferences in the government's favor," and a "[r]eversal is appropriate only when, after viewing the evidence in such a manner, no rational jury 'could have found the defendant to have committed the essential elements of the crime.'" United States v. Macari, 453 F.3d 926, 936 (7th Cir. 2006)(quoting United States v. Masten, 170 F.3d 790, 794 (7th Cir. 1999)); see also United States v. Moses, 513 F.3d 727, 733 (7th Cir. 2008)(stating that "[a] district court should grant a motion for a judgment of acquittal only when there is insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction"); United States v. Pree, 408 F.3d 855, 865 (7th Cir. 2005)(stating that a motion for acquittal should be granted "only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt").

A court may provide a defendant found guilty of a crime by a jury with a new trial under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) (Rule 33(a)) "if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). The decision of whether a new trial is warranted is "committed 'to the sound discretion of the trial judge.'" United States v. Gillaum, 372 F.3d 848, 857-58 (7th Cir. 2004)(quoting United States v. Woolfolk, 197 F.3d 900, 904 (7th Cir. 1999)). In determining whether to grant a new trial, a court should exercise "great caution" and be "wary of second guessing the determinations of the . . . jury." Id. (internal quotations omitted)(quoting United States v. DePriest, 6 F.3d 1201, 1216 (7th Cir. 1993)); see also United States v. Van Eyl, 468 F.3d 428, 436 (7th Cir. 2006)(stating that "[a] defendant is entitled to a new trial if there is a reasonable possibility that a trial error had a prejudicial effect upon the jury's verdict").

DISCUSSION

I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Calderon argues that there was not sufficient evidence to show that he was a member in the conspiracy charged in Count One, that he had knowledge of the actual deal for a controlled substance that the other alleged conspirators attempted to consummate on July 18, 2010, or that he knowingly attempted to possess with intent to distribute the controlled substances that were charged in Count Two. The Seventh Circuit has stated that "[a] defendant who challenges the sufficiency of the evidence faces a nearly insurmountable hurdle [in that] [the Court] consider[s] the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, defer[s] to the credibility determination of the jury, and overturn[s] a verdict only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Gougis, 432 F.3d 735, 743-44 (7th Cir. 2005)(internal quotations omitted)(quoting United States v. Jackson, 177 F.3d 628, 630 (7th Cir. 1999)).

Calderon contends that the jury's verdict with respect to him was based solely on speculation. The Government was not required to present evidence that Calderon was personally involved in every aspect of the conspiracy, or that Calderon was expressly informed of all aspects of it. See, e.g., United States v. Haynes, 582 F.3d 686, 701 (7th Cir. 2009)(stating that for a conspiracy claim that "coconspirators need not participate in every aspect of the scheme"). Nor is the Government required to present direct evidence to establish every element of an offense. The Seventh Circuit has held that "a jury's verdict may rest solely upon circumstantial evidence." United States v. Galati, 230 F.3d 254, 258 (7th Cir. 2000)(internal quotations omitted)(quoting United States v. Robinson, 177 F.3d 643, 648 (7th Cir. 1999))(indicating in addition that "[s]tanding alone, the circumstantial evidence the government presented in th[e] case provides ample support for the jury's finding of guilt"); see also United States v. Sloan, 492 F.3d 884, 891 (7th Cir. 2007)(stating that "specific intent to defraud may be shown . . . by circumstantial evidence and inferences drawn from the scheme itself").

In this case, the Government presented ample evidence showing Calderon's participation in the conspiracy and the attempted drug purchase on July 18, 2010. The Government presented evidence at trial that Calderon provided $100,000 to Jorge Vasquez (Vasquez) that was to be used to purchase cocaine during the failed drug transaction that occurred on July 18, 2010. Among other evidence, the Government presented recorded conversations between Calderon and two confidential informants that occurred in March 2011, in which Calderon discusses giving $100,000 to Vasquez, loaning Vasquez his car, Vasquez's arrest, and Calderon's filing of a false police report indicating that his car stolen. In addition, among other evidence, the Government presented evidence that when Vasquez was caught on July 18, 2010, he had Calderon's car keys in his possession, and that Calderon's car and some of Calderon's other personal effects were eventually recovered from Jose Covarrubias' garage. Thus, based on the evidence presented during the trial, a rational jury could convict Calderon on Counts One and Two of the Superseding Indictment.

In addition, to the extent that Calderon seeks to challenge the credibility determinations by the jury regarding witnesses, this court's role in ruling on post-trial motions is not to second-guess the jury's credibility determinations. Galati, 230 F.3d at 258 (stating that "[i]n assessing the sufficiency of the evidence, the court will not re-weigh the evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses" and "[a]s long as there is a reasonable basis in the record for the jury's verdict, it must stand"). ...


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