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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

May 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MARK RANDALL JONES

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on defendant Mark Randall Jones' Motion for Acquittal (docket entry 200), Motion for New Trial (docket entry 201), and Motion for Arresting Judgment (docket entry 202). Having carefully reviewed the motions, responses, and applicable law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         In a two-count indictment filed in 2009, Defendant Mark Randall Jones was charged with (1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride and (2) possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine hydrochloride. Following a three-day jury trial on March 29, 2017, Jones was found guilty as to both counts. On April 10, 2017, Jones filed three post-trial motions seeking a judgment of acquittal, a new trial, and an arrest of the judgment. Jones' Notice of Appeal followed shortly thereafter.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motions for Judgment of Acquittal and New Trial

         Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, the Court must set aside a jury verdict and enter a judgment of acquittal if “the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction” of the offenses charged in the indictment. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a), (c). When reviewing a Rule 29 motion, the Court considers “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.” U.S. v. Mix, 791 F.3d 603, 612 (5th Cir. 2015); see U.S. v. Beacham, 774 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2014) (review of the sufficiency of the evidence is “highly deferential to the verdict”); U.S. v. Bates, 850 F.3d 807, 810 (5th Cir. 2017) (“the mere presence of some conflicting evidence in the record does not render a jury verdict improper”). “[Q]uestions as to the weight of the evidence or the credibility of witnesses [are] foreclosed by the jury's verdict.” U.S. v. Curtis, 2014 WL 4370675, *1 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 2, 2014).

         Motions for new trial are governed by Rule 33, which allows the Court to vacate a judgment and grant a new trial “if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). Unlike a motion for judgment of acquittal, the Court may weigh the evidence and assess the credibility of witnesses when considering a motion for new trial. U.S. v. Robertson, 110 F.3d 1113, 1117 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Tibbs v. Florida, 457 U.S. 31, 37-38 (1982)). While motions for new trial are reviewed under a more lenient standard than motions for judgment of acquittal, such motions are generally disfavored and “must be reviewed with great caution.” U.S. v. Smith, 804 F.3d 724, 734 (5th Cir. 2015). The Court “should not grant a motion for new trial unless there would be a miscarriage of justice or the weight of the evidence preponderates against the verdict.” U.S. v. Wall, 389 F.3d 457, 466 (5th Cir. 2004). A new trial is granted “only upon demonstration of adverse effects on substantial rights of [the] defendant. U.S. v. Rasco, 123 F.3d 222, 228 (5th Cir. 1997).

         Jones first raised his ore tenus Rule 29 Motion at the close of the Government's case-in-chief. At that time, the defendant urged the Court to enter a judgment of acquittal for the following reasons: (1) the postal inspector lacked reasonable suspicion to seize packages mailed by the defendant; (2) the narcotics seized in this case were destroyed prior to trial; (3) the admission of evidence recovered in California was improper under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 and 404(b); (4) the admission of evidence recovered from a Flowood, Mississippi apartment was improper under Rule 403 and 404(b); (5) the evidence recovered in California and Mississippi was beyond the scope of the indictment and should have been suppressed; (6) the evidence recovered in California and Mississippi should have been excluded because the search warrant returns failed to comply with Rule 41; and (7) the Government presented insufficient proof to establish that the packages in Mississippi were searched after, rather than before, search warrants were obtained.[1] The Court denied the defendant's Rule 29 motion, and Jones subsequently took the stand to testify in his own defense.

         In his renewed Rule 29 motion, Jones reasserts the arguments advanced in his earlier motions and maintains that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain a conviction as to either charge. Additionally, Jones contends that the Court erred by overruling his objections to certain hearsay testimony and jury instructions. The defendant's motion for new trial is premised on the same arguments contained in his renewed motion for judgment of acquittal. Many of the issues raised in Jones' post-trial motions have been addressed on the record. Nevertheless, the Court will supplement its record findings by revisiting each argument briefly in the context of Rule 29 and Rule 33.

         1. Search and Seizure of Mailed Packages

         Norbert Jaworowski, a United States Postal Inspector Service employee, testified that he saw Mark Randall Jones enter a post office in Los Angeles, California on or about June 4, 2008, where he placed two packages in the wall chute for mailing. The sender's name on the packages was listed as “Delilah S. Maddox, YMI, Inc., ” and both packages were labeled with a Jackson, Mississippi return address. Both packages were addressed to “Mr. Horace Hampton, RAMTEC SERVER, ” but the boxes listed different addresses for the intended recipient. One package was addressed to a location in Clinton, Mississippi and the other to a location in Flowood, Mississippi. The sender and recipient names were eventually determined to be fraudulent. After identifying the packages and Jones' behavior as suspicious, Jaworowski seized the boxes, which were later searched and found to contain cocaine hydrochloride. After considering the totality of the circumstances giving rise to Jaworowski's suspicion, in light of the Postal Service's “drug package profile” and the agent's years of training and experience working in narcotics investigations, the Court concluded that Jaworowski's initial seizure was supported by reasonable suspicion.

         As to the subsequent search, there was testimony that agents conducted a controlled dog search of the packages after they arrived in Jackson, Mississippi. Agents testified that the drug sniffing dog alerted to both packages on June 5 and that they opened the boxes on June 6 after obtaining search warrants. The defense challenged this testimony by pointing to conflicting entries in the agents' daily work logs and accompanying warrant returns. Nonetheless, the agents offered explanations for the discrepancies in the dates recorded, and the Court was satisfied that the packages were opened after proper warrants were obtained. Moreover, the Court was unconvinced that, based on the evidence, any errors in the warrant returns were intentional or deliberate.[2]

         Having previously denied Jones' motion to suppress as to these issues, the Court again concludes that the initial seizure and subsequent search of the mailed packages ...


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