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United States v. Chujoy

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

September 13, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
FELIX ADRIANO CHUJOY, et al., Defendants-

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge.

         On December 22, 2015, a jury found defendants Felix Adriano Chujoy and Carolyn J. Edlind guilty of conspiracy to engage in witness tampering under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(k) (Count One), witness tampering under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1) (Count Two), and obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1503 (Count Three). The jury also found Edlind guilty of perjury under 18 U.S.C. § 1623 (Count Four), and a second count of obstruction (Count Five).

         Before the court is defendants' joint motion for new trial, ECF No. 127.[1]Because the motion is untimely and defendants fail to show excusable neglect for the filing delay, the motion is DENIED.

         I.

         Trial in this case began on December 16, 2015. At the close of the government's evidence, defendants jointly moved for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The court reserved decision, and the trial continued. The defendants renewed their Rule 29 motion at the close of all the evidence. The court granted the motion in part and submitted the remaining case to the jury. The jury returned a guilty verdict on December 22, 2015.

         After the jury returned its verdict, defendants again renewed their Rule 29 motion. The court ordered them to submit written briefs, and set a deadline thirty days after filing of the trial transcript. Defendants timely filed a joint brief in support of their Rule 29 motion, and the court heard oral argument on May 11, 2016.

         During the May 11 argument, several issues were raised regarding Count Four, and the court ordered the government and Edlind to file supplemental briefs addressing the following issues: (1) whether the "literal truth" or "fundamental ambiguity" doctrines applied to the false statements alleged in Count Four; (2) whether the analysis of Count Four would be affected were the court to conclude that one or more of the alleged false statements could not support a perjury conviction as a matter of law; (3) whether the absence of a special unanimity jury instruction in Count Four bore on the second issue; and (4) whether the court could consider errors in jury instructions when the defendants had filed only a Rule 29 motion and not a motion for new trial under Rule 33. ECF No. 124. Supplemental briefs were filed on June 1, 2016.

         Two days later, on June 3, 2016, Edlind filed a motion for new trial pursuant to Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The court heard a second round of argument on July 20, 2016, focusing specifically on the timeliness of the motion for new trial. During the July 20 hearing, Chujoy orally moved to join Edlind's Rule 33 motion, effectively transforming Edlind's original Rule 33 motion into a joint motion for new trial.

         II.

         Defendants' Rule 33 motion rises and falls on timeliness grounds. The motion was filed nearly six months after trial and almost three months after the extended deadline for post-trial motions. This is well outside the time limits provided by the Federal Rules. Because defendants fail to show excusable neglect for their late-filed motion, the court finds it untimely and will not consider it. Nor does the court have authority to convert the pending Rule 29 motion into a motion for new trial.

         A.

         A motion for new trial must be filed within fourteen days of a guilty verdict, absent proof of newly discovered evidence. Fed. R. Grim. P. 33(b)(2). However, the time limits in Rule 33 are not jurisdictional, see Eberhart v. United States. 546 U.S. 12, 19 (2005) (per curiam), and must be read in light of Rule 45. Specifically, Rule 45(b) states:

(1) In General. When an act must or may be done within a specified period, the court on its own may extend the time, or for good cause may do so on a party's motion made:
(A) before the originally prescribed or previously extended time expires; or
(B) after the time expires if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect.
(2) Exception. The court may not extend the time to take any action under Rule 35, except ...

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