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United States v. Gomez-Rodriguez

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 26, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
WILMER ANTONIO GOMEZ-RODRIGUEZ Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR ACQUITTAL [DKT. 97] AND MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL [DKT. 98]

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         On September 15, 2015, following two days of evidence presented by the government in a narcotics conspiracy trial, a jury rendered verdicts of guilty against the defendant on Counts One and Two of the Indictment. The defendant thereafter moved for a judgment of acquittal [Dkt. 97] and for a new trial [Dkt. 98]. For the reasons that follow, the defendant’s post-trial motions are DENIED.

         II. Factual Background

         In Count One of the Indictment, a grand jury charged the defendant with conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(i) and 846. In Count Two, the grand jury charged the defendant with possession and distribution of one kilogram or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(i), and 18 U.S.C. § 2. [Dkt. 9].

         Trial of the matter began on September 8, 2015. In its case-in-chief, the government presented the testimony of several Special Agents and Task Force Officers of the DEA, as well as the testimony of a DEA chemist. In addition, the government presented recordings and transcripts of several telephone calls intercepted between an undercover officer and a co-defendant, Omar Andrade, as well as an unidentified third individual. From the witness testimony and the recordings and transcripts, the following facts were presented to the jury:

         During August and September of 2014, Andrade negotiated with the undercover to sell the undercover two kilograms of heroin at a sale price of $68, 000 per kilogram. After speaking with the undercover, Andrade would periodically call an unidentified third male who used a particular telephone, which the agents described as “the Chui phone, ” and arrange face-to-face meetings to discuss the contemplated transaction.

         During this same time period, co-defendant Estrella-Disla’s telephone contacted the defendant’s telephone repeatedly, and the phones of the defendant and Estrella-Disla exchanged text messages. DEA agents testified that these messages appeared to involve negotiations, a person known as “Chui, ” and a possible purchase price of $59, 000. Estrella-Disla’s telephone also contacted the ‘Chui phone’ by text. DEA agents testified that these messages contained discussions of an impending transaction. On September 30, 2014, Andrade met with an informant, working with the undercover, at a diner in Norwalk. After a short while, Andrade and the informant changed the meeting location and drove to another location in Norwalk. At the second location, in a parking lot, Andrade left the informant’s vehicle, and met with Estrella-Disla, who was on foot near where the informant’s vehicle had been parked.

         A video camera recorded the events that transpired next. In the videotape, Estrella-Disla and Andrade can be seen approaching the informant’s vehicle. Next, another vehicle appeared and drove into the parking space directly next to the informant’s vehicle. The defendant was the driver of this second vehicle. The defendant opened the driver-side door of the vehicle. The defendant then remotely opened the trunk of the second vehicle, exited the vehicle and, as Estrella-Disla was removing a package from the trunk and handing it to Andrade, walked around the back of the car to join the two co-defendants. Estrella-Disla and Andrade then moved the package into the rear passenger compartment of the informant’s vehicle while the defendant stood nearby and watched.

         The package, which was seized at the scene by DEA agents, weighed approximately 1220 grams and contained heroin. The net weight of the heroin was approximately 998.4 grams. The car driven by the defendant was later determined to have belonged to Estrella-Disla. The jury found the defendant guilty on Count One, and found that the object of the conspiracy involved at least one kilogram of heroin. The jury also found the defendant guilty on Count Two, and found that the amount of heroin possessed and distributed was between 100 and 1000 grams.

         III. Legal Standard

         Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that the court “must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). In considering a motion for judgment of acquittal under F.R.Crim.P. 29(c), the Court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the prosecution, and must deny the motion if “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Coté, 544 F.3d 88, 98 (2d Cir. 2008).

         Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure “confers broad discretion upon a trial court to set aside a jury verdict and order a new trial to avert a perceived miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Polouizzi, 564 F.3d 142, 159 (2d Cir. 2009). A Rule 33 motion may be granted “if the interest of justice so requires.” F.R.Crim.P. 33(a). It should only be granted where “it would be a manifest injustice to let the guilty verdict stand.” United States v. Lin Guang, 511 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 2007).

         IV. ...


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