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United States v. Muhammad

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

October 11, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MUSTAFA MUHAMMAD

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge

         The matter is before the Court on the Motion for New Trial (ECF No. 74) filed by Mustafa Muhammad. By Order entered on July 14, 2017, the Court ordered the Government to respond to Muhammad's Motion. (ECF No. 114.) The Government filed a Motion for an Extension of Time (ECF No. 117) on August 3, 2017, and filed its Response (ECF No. 118) on August 6, 2017. The Government's Motion for an Extension of Time will be granted, and its Response will be deemed timely filed. Muhammad has filed a Reply. (ECF No. 120.) The Motion for New Trial is therefore ripe for disposition.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 15, 2014, a grand jury indicted Muhammad with transportation of a minor for prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). (Indictment 1, ECF No. 9.) Muhammad's jury trial commenced on June 23, 2014. After the Government rested its case, Muhammad moved for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. (June 24, 2014 Tr. 395, ECF No. 60.) The Court denied Muhammad's motion. (June 24, 2014 Tr. 397.) Muhammad then presented testimony from four witnesses in his defense. (June 24, 2014 Tr. 398-417.) After the close of the evidence, Muhammad again moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the Court denied. (June 24, 2014 Tr. 508-10.) Following a few hours of deliberations, the jury returned its verdict, finding Muhammad guilty of the charge in the one-count Indictment. (ECF No. 40, at 1.)

         On September 17, 2014, the Court entered judgment and sentenced Muhammad to 120 months of incarceration. (J. 2, ECF No. 51.) Muhammad appealed. On May 5, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Muhammad's conviction and sentence. United States v. Muhammad, 601 Fed.Appx. 226, 227 (4th Cir. 2015). On November 2, 2015, the United States Supreme Court denied Muhammad's petition for certiorari. Muhammad v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 425 (2015). On April 11, 2016, the Court received Muhammad's Motion for a New Trial. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for a New Trial ("Rule 33 Motion") will be denied.

         II. RULE 33 MOTION

         A. Summary of Evidence

         Muhammad's Pre-Sentence Investigation Report ("PSR") aptly summarized the evidence of his guilt as follows:

[O]n March 14, 2014, Stafford County Sheriff's Office First Sergeant Rob Grella conducted a prostitution sting operation, wherein he telephonically contacted women advertising "escort" services on the website www.backpage.com (Backpage). Law enforcement is aware that women advertising as escorts on Backpage are frequently engaged in prostitution. First Sergeant Grella telephoned a female using the moniker "Scarlet" advertising in Fredericksburg, Virginia with an ad title of "Back for the First Time, " and using telephone number 202-644-2963. The female agreed to travel to First Sergeant Grella, who was using a room at the Wingate Hotel, 20 Sanford Drive in Stafford County, Virginia.
The woman entered the hotel and agreed to engage in oral and/or vaginal intercourse with First Sergeant Grella in exchange for money. The woman was detained by First Sergeant Grella for further investigation. The woman initially provided First Sergeant Grella with false information regarding her age, but after further questioning, the female (hereinafter identified as Juvenile 1) informed First Sergeant Grella that she was a 16 year old runaway from Maryland with a date of birth of March 20, 1997. A check of police records and information from Juvenile l's family confirmed Juvenile 1 was in fact 16 years old at the time of arrest. Juvenile 1 informed First Sergeant Grella that she was in the company of three other persons and that they were all staying in a room at the Holiday Inn Express, 5422 Jefferson Davis Hwy, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22407. Mr. Muhammad was detained leaving his hotel by police in a vehicle described as a 1995 Toyota . . . registered to Mustafa Muhammad .... Also in the vehicle were Lillie Edmonds, an adult female, and Alfred Leroy Thompson, an adult male. Ms. Edmonds and Mr. Thompson were also detained pending further investigation.
Juvenile 1 was interviewed by Stafford County Sheriff's Office Detective Sean Danyluk on March 15, 2014. Juvenile 1 stated that she met Mr. Muhammad on a social media website known as Tagged.com. Law enforcement is aware that pimps often use this website to recruit persons into prostitution. According to Juvenile 1, she met Mustafa Muhammad on or about March 13, 2014, at a hotel near Clinton, Maryland, where she prostituted on his behalf. Juvenile 1 stated that Mr. Muhammad posted advertisements on Backpage for her and used her real photographs in the ads. Juvenile 1 indicated she gave Mr. Muhammad some of the proceeds from her acts of prostitution. She stated they then traveled to Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Juvenile 1 reported that Mr. Thompson was also present at the hotel in Clinton, Maryland.
According to Juvenile 1, on March 14, 2014, Mr. Muhammad decided to leave Maryland for Virginia. Mustafa Muhammad told Juvenile 1 that they would make a lot of money in Virginia due to Juvenile l's light complexion. Prior to leaving Maryland, the three individuals (Juvenile 1, Mustafa Muhammad, and Alfred Thompson) picked up Ms. Edmonds, who was staying at a different hotel in Maryland. All persons in the car were aware they were traveling to Virginia for the purpose of Juvenile 1 and Ms. Edmonds to engage in commercial sex acts. Juvenile 1 [stated] that Mr. Muhammad again posted her on Backpage in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She stated they obtained room 520 at the Holiday Inn Express. Juvenile 1 disclosed that she travelled to the Wingate Hotel in Stafford County in the Toyota driven by Mr. Muhammad.
(PSR ¶¶ 6-9 (paragraph numbers omitted).)
B. Timeliness of the Motion for a New Trial
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 ...

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