The opinion of the court was delivered by: James P. Jones United States District Judge
In this criminal case, I consider the defendants' post-trial Joint Motion for Judgment of Acquittal or New Trial.
The defendants, Ricky David Robinson and Cynthia Lee Robinson, husband and wife, were jointly charged in an Indictment with harboring a fugitive (Count One) and conspiracy to harbor a fugitive (Count Two). They were tried by a jury and found guilty on both counts.
The defendants have filed a timely Joint Motion for Judgment of Acquittal or New Trial pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 29 and 33. They first contend that the evidence presented at their trial was insufficient to convict them of either charge. Second, they submit that they are entitled to a new trial, arguing that two items of evidence were improperly admitted at their trial. The government opposes this motion, which has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision.
After careful consideration of the record and the arguments made by counsel, I will deny the motion.
The defendants argue that the government failed to carry its burden of proving their guilt. The government maintains the guilty verdicts are supported by sufficient evidence of each element of the charged crimes.
In considering the evidence, I must keep in mind that "it is '[t]he jury, not the reviewing court, [which] weighs the credibility of the evidence . . . and if the evidence supports different, reasonable interpretations, the jury decides which interpretation to believe.'" United States v. Castillo-Pena, 674 F.3d 318, 321 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 862 (4th Cir. 1996)). In this process, I view the evidence and all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the government. United States v. Perry, 335 F.3d 316, 320 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942)). The question is whether the convictions are supported by substantial evidence, which is defined as "evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Young, 609 F.3d 348, 355 (4th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Count One of the Indictment charged the defendants with harboring a fugitive, namely, their son Chad Robinson, in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 1071 (West Supp. 2012). To prove a violation of this statute, the government is required to demonstrate that "(1) a federal warrant has been issued for the fugitive's arrest, (2) the harborer had knowledge that a warrant had been issued for the fugitive's arrest, (3) the defendant actually harbored or concealed the fugitive, and (4) the defendant intended to prevent the fugitive's discovery or arrest." United States v. Mitchell, 177 F.3d 236, 238 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing United States v. Silva, 745 F. 2d 840, 848 (4th Cir. 1984)). The actual harboring or concealment element requires "some affirmative, physical action by the defendant[s]." Mitchell, 177 F.3d at 239 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Generally, the Government must prove a physical act of providing assistance, including food, shelter, and other assistance to aid the [fugitive] in avoiding detection and apprehension." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Count Two of the Indictment charged the defendants with conspiracy to harbor a fugitive in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 371 (West 2000). In order to sustain a conspiracy conviction under this provision, the government must prove: "(1) an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, and (2) an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy." United States v. Ellis, 121 F.3d 908, 922 (4th Cir. 1997).
The evidence as it was presented at trial showed that a federal arrest warrant for Chad Robinson had issued on February 17, 2012. Law enforcement first contacted the defendants in search of their son at their home on April 24, 2012. Officers believed they spotted Chad running from the property but lost sight of him. After unsuccessfully searching the home, the officers informed both defendants that a warrant had been issued for their son's arrest and that they could face criminal charges if they chose to harbor him.
Officers visited the Robinson residence again on May 9, 2012. They found no cars at the house, but a "four wheeler" was parked outside. As the officers approached the home on foot, they saw Chad peering around the side, but again lost sight before they were able to give chase. Officers entered the home and found another individual, Cody Quesenberry, who denied knowledge of Chad's whereabouts. The officers noted that there were two glasses with cold drinks and two packs of different brands of cigarettes around the pool table in the basement of the Robinsons' home. Officers searching the home encountered a bedroom - other than the master bedroom - in which the bed was unmade, clothes were strewn about, an electric fan was running, and an open bag of camping gear was lying on the floor. Finally, officers discovered a fresh set of bare footprints in the mud outside of the house. One of the officers then phoned Ricky Robinson and asked him to return home to discuss the situation. Ricky asked for additional time to speak with his son to encourage him to turn himself in.
Officers again visited the defendants' home early in the morning of May 15, 2012. Cynthia Robinson allowed the officers to search the house, but denied having recently seen her son. She stated to them that he had called her from an unknown telephone number the preceding Sunday but claimed that the number was no longer stored in her phone. She became agitated, started yelling and made hostile comments about police officers. Cynthia ultimately admitted to one of the officers that Chad had eaten and slept at their home the previous Sunday evening. She told one of the agents, "He's not a fugitive, he lives here."
Ricky, speaking separately with officers outside the home, admitted that his son had been home "three or four" times since he started running from the police. Ricky stated that his son had last been home the preceding Friday and that he had given him ten dollars. Ricky also admitted to having driven Chad to his grandmother's home because their house was "hot." When confronted with his wife's admission, Ricky finally stated that his son had spent all of the previous Sunday at his home, leaving Monday morning. Ricky further claimed he had fought with his son about turning himself in. At that point, Cynthia yelled to her husband that he did not have to speak to law enforcement and that he should come inside.
It does not appear that law enforcement officers had any additional interaction with the defendants until Chad's arrest on July 5, 2012, in the apartment of his girlfriend about ten miles from the Robinsons' residence. Chad phoned his parents several times from jail and recordings of portions of those conversations were introduced during the trial.*fn1 Cynthia was recorded telling Chad that Cody Quesenberry had been subpoenaed "to testify about the day y'all were here." She was also recorded asking, "Reckon they know we went up to Grandma's that night?" Ricky was recorded telling his son that "[b]ecause we done what we wasn't . . . supposed to do . . . we know we was gonna get caught doing that . . . and we have now, and they're trying to get us."
Ricky and Cynthia Robinson were arrested on the charges in this case on July 10, 2012. As she was being taken into custody, Cynthia told one of the officers that "rules were meant to be broken." The following day, Ricky was again recorded speaking with his son, telling him, "I told you this could, what was going to ...