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United States v. Benedict

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 24, 2014

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Derek Edward Benedict, Defendant.

Surya Saxena and Katharine T. Buzicky, United States Attorney's Office, for Plaintiff.

Thomas G. Dunnwald, Dunnwald & Peterson PA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for a New Trial and Motion for Judgment of Acquittal [Doc. No. 352]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motions.

II. BACKGROUND

Defendant Derek Edward Benedict was charged with conspiracy to commit bank burglary, bank larceny, and interstate transportation of stolen property (Count 1); conspiracy to steal controlled substances (Count 2); bank larceny (Counts 4 and 5); burglary involving controlled substances (Count 6); and interstate transportation of stolen property (Count 10). On December 20, 2013, a jury convicted Defendant of all counts of the Indictment on which he was charged. (Jury Verdict as to Derek Edward Benedict [Doc. No. 340].) Defendant now asks the Court to set aside his convictions or grant him a new trial [Doc. No. 355]. The Government opposes Defendant's motions [Doc. No. 355].

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a Court may set aside a guilty verdict if the evidence presented at trial is insufficient to sustain a conviction. FED. R. CRIM. P. 29(c)(2). The Court, however, "has very limited latitude in ruling upon a motion for judgment of acquittal." United States v. Baker , 367 F.3d 790, 797 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court cannot weigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses. Id . If the evidence rationally supports two conflicting hypotheses, the Court will not disturb the conviction. Ortega v. United States , 270 F.3d 540, 544-45 (8th Cir. 2001). Accordingly, the Court may grant a judgment of acquittal "only where the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the government, is such that a reasonably minded jury must have a reasonable doubt as to the existence of any of the essential elements of the crime charged." Baker , 367 F.3d at 797.

Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permits the Court to grant a new trial to a defendant "if the interests of justice so require." FED. R. CRIM. P. 33. When ruling on a motion for a new trial under this rule, the Court has broader discretion than on a motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29. United States v. Campos , 306 F.3d 577, 579 (8th Cir. 2002). It may "weigh the evidence, disbelieve witnesses, and grant a new trial even where there is substantial evidence to sustain the verdict." White v. Pence , 961 F.2d 776, 780 (8th Cir. 1992). Nonetheless, the Court's discretion is not unlimited, and it must exercise its authority under Rule 33 "sparingly and with caution." Campos , 306 F.3d at 579. Unless the Court determines that a miscarriage of justice will occur, the jury's verdict must stand. Id.

B. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

Defendant moves for judgment of acquittal, arguing that there was insufficient evidence for conviction. (Def.'s Rule 29 and 33 Mot. for Post-Trial Acquittal or New Trial at 1 [Doc. No. 352].) The Court respectfully disagrees.

To sustain Defendant's conviction for conspiracy to commit bank burglary, bank larceny, and interstate transportation of stolen property (Count 1), the Government was required to prove four elements:

1. Beginning in or about October 2009 and continuing through in or about February 2013, two or more persons reached an agreement or came to an understanding to engage in at least one of the following three types of conduct:

a. To enter and attempt to enter buildings used in whole or in part as a bank or credit union whose deposits were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Administration with the intent to commit larceny in those ...

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