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United States v. Fuentes

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 12, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
OMAR ALARCON FUENTES, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR ACQUITTAL OR NEW TRIAL

THOMAS O. RICE, District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant's Motion and Memorandum in Support of Acquittal or New Trial (ECF No. 182). This matter was submitted for consideration without argument. The Defendant is represented by Philip E. Nino. The United States is represented by George J.C. Jacobs, III. The Court has reviewed the record and files herein, and is fully informed.

DISCUSSION

On December 3, 2014, after a two-day trial, a jury found Defendant guilty of distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยง 841. ECF No. 179. On December 10, 2014, Defendant filed the current motion for a judgment of acquittal or to grant a new trial. ECF No. 182. In his motion, Defendant contends the Court erred in admitting statements he made to the police following his arrest because the statements (1) should have been suppressed as a violation of his Miranda rights and (2) were inadmissible propensity evidence. ECF No. 182 at 4-5. Defendant has also raised Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) in his motion, though without specific argument relating to the sufficiency of the evidence presented at the trial. Id. at 3. The Court construes Defendant's motion to also contend that the evidence presented was legally insufficient to support the jury's verdict and that the Court should set that verdict aside. The Court will examine each contention in turn.

RULE 29: SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

Rule 29(c) allows a criminal defendant to move for a judgment of acquittal following a jury verdict. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c). The Court may not grant a Rule 29 motion if, "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the offenses charged beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Rosales, 516 F.3d 749, 751-52 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court must presume the jury resolved any conflicting inferences in the government's favor. Id. at 752. The Court must also consider "all of the evidence presented at trial, including evidence that was improperly admitted." United States v. Castaneda, 16 F.3d 1504, 1510 (9th Cir. 1994). As such, the Court evaluates first whether the totality of evidence presented at trial was legally sufficient under Rule 29 before considering Defendant's argument that certain evidence was erroneously admitted, warranting a new trial under Rule 33.

The jury was instructed that in order to find Defendant guilty the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) Defendant knowingly distributed methamphetamine and (2) Defendant knew it was methamphetamine or some other prohibited drug. See Final Instructions Nos. 3, 5, 19. The jury was also instructed that should they find Defendant guilty of the charge, they were to determine whether the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of methamphetamine exceeded fifty grams. Final Instruction No. 22.

Over the course of the trial, the government presented evidence that a confidential informant, David Goodwin, arranged to buy methamphetamine from his supplier, Henry Bevans, using $4, 000 supplied by law enforcement. On July 18, 2013, Goodwin met Bevans in a hotel room at a Comfort Inn in Spokane, Washington. Goodwin was wearing an audio recording and transmitting device; recordings of his interactions with Bevans were introduced at trial. Bevans told Goodwin that he was awaiting his own supplier to arrive with methamphetamine. After a series of phone calls between Bevans and his supplier, Bevans told Goodwin that the supplier was on his way in a van with his children.

Sometime after this statement, law enforcement surveilling the hotel observed a white van pull up to the back of the hotel. At that point, Bevans received a phone call and told the caller that he would come down. Bevans left the room with a backpack. Law enforcement observed Bevans exit the rear of the hotel with a backpack and enter the van. The van pulled around to the front of the hotel and Bevans exited the van with the backpack and re-entered the hotel. Goodwin observed Bevans return to the room where Bevans removed a Tupperware container from the backpack containing what Goodwin believed to be methamphetamine. Goodwin took photos of the contents with his phone. Those photos, which partially show Bevans holding the container, were introduced at the trial. Goodwin and Bevans completed the sale and Goodwin left with a portion of the substance in the container. That substance later tested positive as methamphetamine. A DEA lab technician testified that the amount of methamphetamine that Goodwin purchased had a net weight of 147.2 grams. The technician also testified that, based upon the purity of the methamphetamine, the weight of pure methamphetamine was 119.3 grams.

After Bevans exited the van, law enforcement followed the van from Spokane to Sunnyside, Washington. From the van's license plate, law enforcement learned that it was registered to Defendant. Law enforcement also visually identified that Defendant was the driver of the van and that two children and a woman were in the vehicle with Defendant. Law enforcement followed the van until it parked at a house later identified as Defendant's residence.

On July 25, 2013, a warrant was executed for Defendant's arrest and to search Defendant's house. No methamphetamine was found at the house. Subsequent to his arrest, Defendant made incriminating statements to law enforcement officers including that he was in Spokane the week earlier to see Bevans and sell him a pound of methamphetamine.

At trial, Bevans testified that he did not purchase the methamphetamine from Defendant, but entered the van only to sell him an iPad. Bevans also testified he had hidden the methamphetamine in the hotel's laundry room and retrieved it on his way back from the van. The Court presumes, as it must, that the jury resolved this conflicting testimony in the government's favor. Rosales, 516 F.3d at 752. Indeed, the jury necessarily found Bevans' testimony incredible in order to return a guilty verdict.

The Court concludes the evidence was sufficient for a rational fact-finder to infer that Bevans obtained the Tupperware container of methamphetamine from Defendant while in the van, placed it in his backpack, and then resold a portion of that methamphetamine to Goodwin after Bevans returned to the hotel room. Defendant admitted to as much at the time of his arrest. Viewing all evidence together in the light most favorable to the prosecution, while also resolving any conflicting inferences in favor of the prosecution, ...


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