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United States v. Asencio

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi

August 3, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RAYMORRIS ASENCIO

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Now before this court is Defendant Raymorris Asencio's motion for judgment of acquittal, or alternatively, a new trial [125]. The government has responded, and the matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons set forth, the Court finds the motion should be denied.

         Background

         On April 19, 2017, a grand jury charged Asencio and co-defendant Brianna Sparkman with (1) one count of sex trafficking of a minor by means of force, fraud, or coercion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591; and (2) one count of transporting a minor across state lines to engage in criminal sexual activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423. Superseding Indictment [14]. On March 21, 2018, after a three-day trial, a jury convicted Asencio on both counts.[1] Verdict Form [95]. Asencio timely filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, see Fed R. Crim. P. 29(c)(1), and for a new trial, see Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(b)(2).

         Legal Standards

         I. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

         Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a court "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). A court "do[es] not weigh evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses, and the jury is free to choose among reasonable constructions of the evidence." United States v. Ramos-Cardenas, 524 F.3d 600, 605 (5th Cir. 2008); see United States v. Johnson, 381 F.3d 506, 508 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Martinez, 975 F.2d 159, 161 (5th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 943, 113 S.Ct. 1346, 122 L.Ed.2d 728 (1993) ("Determining the weight and credibility of the evidence is within the exclusive province of the jury.")). The jury verdict will be upheld if a reasonable trier of fact could conclude from the evidence that the elements of the offense were established beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); United States v. Percel, 553 F.3d 903, 910 (5th Cir. 2008). A court "views the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and draws all reasonable inferences from the evidence to support the verdict." Percel, 553 F.3d at 910 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         II. Motion for New Trial

         Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides in pertinent part 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(b). "In [the Fifth] Circuit, the generally accepted standard is that a new trial ordinarily should not be granted 'unless there would be a miscarriage of justice or the weight of evidence preponderates against the verdict.'" United States v. Wright, 634 F.3d 770, 775 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States 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 a defendant.'" Id. (quoting Wall, 389 F.3d at 466). Accordingly, "harmless error," which is defined as "[a]ny error, defect, irregularity or variance which does not affect substantial rights," Fed. R. Crim. P. 52(a), does not warrant a new trial. United States v. Akpan, 407 F.3d 360, 369-70 (5th Cir. 2005).

         Analysis

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Asencio challenges the sufficiency of the evidence that supported his conviction in Count One. When examining the sufficiency of the evidence underlying a conviction, this Court is "highly deferential to the verdict." United States v. Moreno-Gonzalez, 662 F.3d 369, 372 (5th Cir. 2011). The Court considers "whether any rational jury could have found the essential elements of the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt." See United states v. Herrera, 466 Fed.Appx. 409, 414 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Valdez, 453 F.3d 252, 256 (5th Cir. 2006). "'It is not necessary that the evidence exclude every rational hypothesis of innocence or be wholly inconsistent with every conclusion except guilt, provided a reasonable trier of fact could find the evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Valdez, 453 F.3d at 256 (quoting United States v. Pruneda-Gonzalez, 953 F.2d 190, 193 (5th Cir. 1992)). The question is thus whether the jury's verdict was reasonable-not whether it was correct. Herrera, 466 Fed.Appx. at 414. (citing Moreno-Gonzalez, 662 F.3d at 372).

         In sum, the Court must view the evidence and the inferences that may be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the verdict and resolve all inferences and credibility assessments in favor of the verdict. See id; United States v. Ortiz, 942 F.2d 903, 908 (5th Cir. 1991) (citing United States v. Singh, 922 F.2d 1169, 1173 (5th Cir. 1991)).

         Count One of the superseding indictment charged Asencio with sexual trafficking of CSP, a minor female, by force, fraud, or coercion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a)(1), and (2). To sustain a conviction under that statute, the government must prove that (1) "the defendant knowingly recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, obtained or maintained [the victim];" (2) "the recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining or maintaining of [the victim] was in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce," and (3) "the defendant committed such act knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that" either (a) "the [victim] was under the age of 18 years of age and would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act" or "means of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion ... or any combination of such means [would] be used to cause the [victim] to engage in a commercial sex act." United States v. Lockhart, 844 F.3d 501, 509 (5th Cir. 2016); United States v. Garcia-Gonzalez, 714 F.3d 306, 312 (5th Cir. 2013). The jury found that Asencio committed the sex trafficking both with knowledge or in reckless disregard to the fact that CSP was a minor and with knowledge or in reckless disregard to the fact that means of force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion would be used to cause CSP to engage in a commercial sex act. Verdict Form [95].

         There is sufficient evidence that Asencio recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, obtained, or maintained CSP. CSP testified that Asencio picked her up on the side of the road and told her that he would help her "make money." CSP and Sparkman both testified that Asencio drove them from Hattiesburg, to Grenada, to Oxford, back to Hattiesburg, and finally to Baton Rouge to engage in ...


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