United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi
before this court is Defendant Raymorris Asencio's motion
for judgment of acquittal, or alternatively, a new trial
. 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.
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 . On March 21, 2018, after a three-day trial,
a jury convicted Asencio on both counts. Verdict Form
. 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.
Motion for Judgment of Acquittal
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).
Motion for New Trial
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).
Sufficiency of the Evidence
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
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
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 .
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 ...