United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
AND DENYING GOVERNMENT'S MOTION
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Johnny Javier
Morel-Pineda's Motion for New Trial. Dkt. #68. Following
a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of one count of
distribution of methamphetamine under 21 U.S.C. §
841(a)(1) and § 841(b)(1)(B). Dkts. #15, #58, and #59.
Defendant maintains that he was denied a fair trial because a
government witness possibly attempted to contact him before
trial-a fact learned during trial and fully disclosed to the
jury- to “bribe” Defendant. Defendant argues that
this misconduct tainted the trial and that the interest of
justice requires a new trial to avoid “a serious
miscarriage of justice.” Dkt. #68 at 1, 6. This conduct
also served as the basis for several unsuccessful defense
motions during trial, including a half-time motion to
dismiss. Finding that Defendant's trial was fundamentally
fair, and for the following reasons, many of which were
similarly noted by the Court during trial, the Court denies
criminal charge arose from a sale of methamphetamine to Mr.
Anthony “Tony” Meyers who was working as a
confidential source for law enforcement. Mr. Meyers, who was
known to Defendant, contacted Defendant and they agreed on a
location, amount of methamphetamine, and price for the sale.
Law enforcement surveilled the transaction from a
distance-though constant visual contact was not
maintained-and observed Defendant return to his apartment
following the transaction. Mr. Meyers wore a device that
recorded the transaction and allowed law enforcement to
listen in real time. Consistent with the recording, Mr.
Meyers provided law enforcement with the purchased
methamphetamine following the transaction.
pertinent to this Motion, Defendant notified his counsel
after the first day of trial that he had received
communications prior to trial which may have been from Mr.
Meyers-who was to testify. Further investigation revealed
that on May 16, 2019, the Saturday before trial, Defendant
received two messages on Facebook Messenger from an account
named “Tony Debbie Meyers.” The first, received
at 12:42 p.m. was: “Do you want to win your trial? If
you do, I will meet you at McDonald's to talk.”
Dkt. #63-4 (Trial Exhibit A-37). The second, received sixteen
minutes later, indicated: “This is Tony txt me on
messenger.” Id. Additionally, Defendant
provided evidence of a comment from the “Tony Debbie
Meyers” account, at an unspecified time, on Facebook
indicating: “Jonny if you want to win your trial meet
me at McDonald's and we can talk. It's Tony.”
Dkt. #63-5 (Trial Exhibit A-38).
counsel notified the government, and the government
investigated the matter, ultimately sending a communication
to defense counsel indicating: “Yes, we were able to
determine from investigation that Tony's wife, Debbie
(who shares access to the account), sent the message without
Tony's prior knowledge.” Dkt. #54-1. Defendant
brought the matter to the Court's attention, seeking an
evidentiary hearing into the circumstances of the messages.
Dkt. #66 at 4:6-8:17. The Court denied the request on the
basis that no mechanism existed for such a hearing and
because the relevant witnesses were available to Defendant
and he could inquire into the circumstances of the messages
if he so choose. Id. at 12:4-13:8.
cross-examination of Mr. Meyers, Defendant further developed
the record regarding the circumstances of the messages.
Defendant elicited, essentially, that Mr. Meyers shared the
account with his wife, that they had discussed the
possibility of sending similar messages, that he was made
aware of them shortly after they were sent, that he believed
they represented an attempt “to tamper with the
integrity of [the] trial, ” and that he did not
disclose the messages to the government. Id. at
result of Mr. Meyers' conduct coming to light during his
testimony-namely, his involvement in the circumstances
surrounding the messages being sent and unrelated violations
of his agreements with law enforcement-the government
indicated that “the DEA does intend to terminate Mr.
Meyers as a source. They also intend to take steps to ensure
that he's never hired again by the DEA, given everything
[that has] happened here.” Dkt. #67 at 4:8-12.
the close of the government's case in chief, Defendant
sought a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for a
continuance. Dkt. #66 at 183:13-187:17. Defendant argued, in
essence, that the messages represented an attempt by Mr.
Meyers to bribe Defendant with untruthful testimony.
Defendant maintained that Mr. Meyers' testimony therefore
represented a due process violation, equating it to
situations where the government presented testimony it knew
was perjured. Further, Defendant argued that without Mr.
Meyers' testimony, the government's case would fall
apart, and that the veracity of Mr. Meyers' testimony
therefore went to the fundamental fairness of the trial.
Court denied the defense motions. Dkt. #67 at 5:20-8:4. In so
doing, the Court noted that the invitation “to meet was
actually never accepted, ” that the messages were open
to “various interpretations, ” and that Mr.
Meyers was not absolutely critical because the jury
“could easily find that [Mr.] Meyers is not credible in
the greater majority of his testimony and still find, and
reasonably so, that all the other evidence presented by the
government, free of any possible taint, is more than
sufficient to return a verdict of guilty.” Id.
at 5:24-7:12. Further, the Court concluded that no due
process violation had occurred because “the government
was not involved” in the messages being sent and
“was not even aware of it until alerted by the
defense.” Id. at 7:13-19.
Motion for New Trial
of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows a defendant
to move for a new trial after a verdict is rendered and
allows a court to “vacate any judgment and grant a new
trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R.
Crim. P. 33(a). “A motion for a new trial is addressed
to the sound discretion of the trial court.” Evalt
v. United States, 382 F.2d 424, 428 (9th Cir. 1967). In
exercising its discretion, the trial court is permitted to
weigh the evidence and evaluate the credibility of ...