United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
Plaintiff, represented by Rebeca H. Bellows, United States
Attorney's Office & William Sloan, U.S. Attorney's
O'GRADY, District Judge.
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.
November 23, 2015, after a five-day jury trial, Jeff Mbuenchu
was convicted by a jury of his peers of three
â¢ Count One: conspiracy to distribute controlled substance in
violation of 21 U.S.C. Â§Â§ 841(a)(1), 846; and
â¢ Counts Six and Seven: using and carrying firearms in
furtherance of drug trafficking crimes, in violation of 18
U.S.C. Â§ 924(c).
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.
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."
Whether the evidence is insufficient to sustain the verdict
as to Count One: conspiracy to distribute a controlled
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.
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 ...