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United States v. Laskowski

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 7, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MARK E. LASKOWSKI

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge.

         Defendant Mark Laskowski has moved the Court for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motions are denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 7, 2015, the grand jury returned a three-count indictment (the "Indictment") against Defendant. (R. 1.) Count One charged Defendant with willfully filing a false 2008 tax return, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1). Counts Two and Three charged him with willfully failing to file a tax return for 2009 and 2010, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7203.

         Defendant proceeded to trial on August 8, 2016. Defendant initially informed the Court that he wanted to represent himself at trial. After jury selection, Defendant reconsidered his position and his appointed counsel resumed representing him. On August 10, 2016, the jury found Defendant guilty on all counts. (R. 86.)

         During the course of the trial, the government called the following witnesses: Justin Thomas Foxx (J.T.), Lourdes Tincopa (Defendant's renter), Jeffrey Eversden (Senior Vice President at Wintrust), Andrew Barker (Financial Center Manager at Fifth Third Bank), Shirley Ball (Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") court witness coordinator), Lisa Cicchini (Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation), Michael David Holmgren (neighbor & tax preparer), Rolanda Hughes- Harrison (Defendant's renter), Dora McGary (Defendant's renter), and Paul Ponzo (IRS Revenue Agent). In addition, Defendant called Adam Ackerman (Defendant's business partner) as a witness.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal - Rule 29

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 29(a) provides that, "[a]fter the government closes its evidence or after the close of all the evidence, the court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). "In challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, [a defendant] bears a heavy, indeed, nearly insurmountable, burden." United States v. Warren, 593 F.3d 540, 546 (7th Cir. 2010); see also United States v. Miller, 782 F.3d 793, 797 (7th Cir. 2015) ("We have referred to this standard as a nearly insurmountable hurdle[.]") (inner quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted); United States v. Molton, 743 F.3d 479, 483 (7th Cir. 2014); United States v. Torres-Chavez, 744 F.3d 988, 993 (7th Cir. 2014); United States v. Jones, 713 F.3d 336, 339-40 (7th Cir. 2013); United States v. Berg, 640 F.3d 239, 246 (7th Cir. 2011); United States v. Morris, 576 F.3d 661, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2009). The reviewing court must view the "evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, " and the defendant '"must convince' the court that, even in that light, 'no rational trier of fact could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Moore, 572 F.3d 334, 337 (7th Cir. 2009)); see also United States v. Eller, 670 F.3d 762, 765 (7th Cir. 2012); United States v. Doody, 600 F.3d 752, 754 (7th Cir. 2010) (stating that the inquiry is "whether evidence exists from which any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt"). In other words, a court will "set aside a jury's guilty verdict only if 'the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, ' from which a jury could have returned a conviction." United States v. Presbitero, 569 F.3d 691, 704 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Moses, 513 F.3d 727, 733 (7th Cir. 2008)); see also Warren, 593 F.3d at 546. It follows that under Rule 29, courts "do not reassess the weight of the evidence or second-guess the trier of fact's credibility determinations." United States v. Arthur, 582 F.3d 713, 717 (7th Cir. 2009). This strict standard is in recognition that "[s]orting the facts and inferences is a task for the jury." Warren, 593 F.3d at 547. Indeed, the Seventh Circuit teaches that:

[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.

Moore, 572 F.3d at 337 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979)).

         II. Motion for a New Trial - Rule 33

         Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that, "[u]pon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a); see also United States v. Berg, 714 F.3d 490, 500 (7th Cir. 2013); United States v. Smith, 674 F.3d 722, 728 (7th Cir. 2012) (reviewing a district court's order on a Rule 33 motion for abuse of discretion); United States v. McGee, 408 F.3d 966, 979 (7th Cir. 2005). '"[C]ourts have interpreted [Rule 33] to require a new trial in the interests of justice in a variety of situations in which the substantial rights of the defendant have been jeopardized by errors or omissions during trial.'" United States v. Eberhart, 388 F.3d 1043, 1048 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting United States v. Kuzniar, 881 F.2d 466, 470 (7th Cir. 1989)), overruled on other grounds, 546 U.S. 12, 126 S.Ct. 403, 163 L.Ed.2d 14 (2005).

         '"A jury verdict in a criminal case is not to be overturned lightly, '" however, '"and therefore a Rule 33 motion is not to be granted lightly.'" Eberhart, 388 F.3d at 1048 (quoting United States v. Santos,20 F.3d 280, 285 (7th Cir. 1994)). The court "may grant a new trial if the jury's verdict is 'so contrary to the weight of the evidence that a new trial is required in the interest of justice.'" United States v. Washington,184 F.3d 653, 657 (7th Cir. 1999) ("The focus in a motion for a new trial is not on whether the testimony is so incredible that it should have been excluded. Rather, the court considers whether the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence, taking into account the credibility of the witnesses."); see also United States v. Chambers,642 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2011). In other words, "[t]he court should grant a motion for a new trial only if the evidence 'preponderate[s] heavily against the verdict, such that it would be a ...


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