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United States v. Mbuenchu

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

July 6, 2016

UNITED STATES,
v.
JEFF MBUENCHU, Defendant.

          USA, Plaintiff, represented by Rebeca H. Bellows, United States Attorney's Office & William Sloan, U.S. Attorney's Office.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Jeff Mbuenchu's Rule 29(c) Motion for Acquittal. The Court held a hearing on this Motion on June 24, 2016. For the reasons outlined below, and as stated in Court, the Court ORDERS that the Motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         On November 23, 2015, after a five-day jury trial, Jeff Mbuenchu was convicted by a jury of his peers of three counts:[1]

• Count One: conspiracy to distribute controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846; and
• Counts Six and Seven: using and carrying firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

         In early December of 2015, Mbuenchu filed a pro se motion for judgment of acquittal. Dkt. No. 79. On March 1, 2016, Mbuenchu's trial counsel filed a motion to withdraw, Dkt. No. 121, which the Court granted, Dkt. No. 122. The Court then appointed Mbuenchu new counsel. Dkt. No. 123. The Court also granted Mbuenchu's new counsel leave to supplement Mbuenchu's pro se Motion for acquittal. Dkt. No. 150. After the new defense counsel filed a supplemental brief, the government filed a response in opposition to the Motion. Dkt. No. 154. Defense counsel then filed a reply brief, Dkt No. 156, and the Court heard oral argument on the Motion on June 24, 2016.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure ("Rule 29") provides that "[i]f the jury has returned a guilty verdict, the court may set aside the verdict and enter an acquittal" when the defendant successfully challenges the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict him. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c)(2). A defendant making a Rule 29 motion challenging the sufficiency of the evidence carries a heavy burden. United States v. Beidler, 110 F.3d 1064, 1067 (4th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). The Fourth Circuit has dictated that, in analyzing a Rule 29 motion, a district court should inquire whether "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Johnson, 55 F.3d 976, 979 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). A court should also give deference to the trier of fact. Id. This requires the court to "construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, assuming its credibility, drawing all favorable inferences from it, and taking into account all the evidence, however adduced." Id.

         III. Analysis

         A. Whether the evidence is insufficient to sustain the verdict as to Count One: conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance

         Mbuenchu first argues that he should be acquitted of Count One because he did not participate in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The parties agree that "the government was required to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) an agreement to distribute and possess [controlled substances] with intent to distribute existed between two or more persons; (2) the defendant knew of the conspiracy; and (3) the defendant knowingly and voluntarily became a part of this conspiracy.'" United States v. Yearwood, 518 F.3d 220, 225-26 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 857 (en banc) (4th Cir. 1996)). After all the evidence was presented at trial and the Court instructed the jury on the crime of conspiracy, the jury found Mbuenchu guilty of participating in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana, MDMA, BZP and Foxy Methoxy.

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has recognized that "conspiracy is usually proven by circumstantial evidence" because conspiracy, by its nature, is "clandestine and covert." Id (quoting Burgos, 94 F.3d at 857). "Circumstantial evidence tending to prove a conspiracy may consist of a defendant's relationship with other members of the conspiracy, the length of this association, [the defendant's] attitude [and] conduct, and the nature of the conspiracy." Id. (quotations omitted). After reviewing the evidence presented at trial, the Court concludes that there was plainly ...


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