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United States v. Villasenor-Villa

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 21, 2015



B. LYNN WINMILL Chief District Judge.


Pending before the Court is Defendant Juan Pablo Villasenor-Villa's Renewed Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (Dkt. 239). For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion.


On November 4, 2014, a jury found defendant Juan Pablo Villasenor-Villa guilty of various crimes relating to the manufacture and distribution of marijuana, including the crime of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848. Villasenor-Villa asks this Court to acquit him on the CCE charge.

At trial, there was ample, unrefuted evidence that Villasenor-Villa was involved in growing marijuana on two different sites in the Boise National Forest. One of the sites was near Rabbit Creek; the other was near Little Beaver Creek. Villasenor-Villa lived in Caldwell, Idaho, and made several short visits to drop points near these sites. He ferried workers and supplies to the drop points.

Law enforcement officials raided both sites in September 2013, and arrested various workers found in the Rabbit Creek site. The Little Beaver Creek site was deserted when law enforcement officials entered the site. Later, the government found approximately 347 pounds (157.27 kilograms) of marijuana in two different Caldwell homes - Villasenor-Villa's home, and his relative's home. The evidence also established that Villasenor-Villa sold marijuana to least one other person, Marco Pantoja.

Villasenor-Villa did not challenge this evidence at trial. In fact, during opening statements, Villasenor-Villa's counsel conceded that his client was guilty of (1) manufacturing marijuana at both grow sites; (2) possessing with intent to distribute at least 100 kilograms of marijuana; and (3) damaging government property. Villasenor-Villa did, however, challenge three of the seven counts contained in the indictment: two firearm charges and the CCE charge. The jury acquitted Villasenor-Villa on the firearm charges, but convicted him on the CCE charge. Villasenor-Villa says that the conviction on the CCE charge cannot stand because the evidence does not support a finding that he organized, supervised, or otherwise managed five or more other persons. See 21 U.S.C. § 848(c)(1)(A).


Villasenor-Villa moves for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c)(1). Such a motion is reviewed on "a sufficiency-of-the-evidence standard." United States v. Graf, 610 F.3d 1148, 1166 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Under this standard, the evidence supports a conviction, if, "viewed in the light most favorable to the government, it would allow any rational trier of fact to find the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.


"In order to prove a continuing criminal enterprise, the government must show that (1) the defendant's conduct constituted a felony violation of federal narcotics laws; (2) the described conduct occurred as part of a continuing series of violations; (3) the defendant undertook the activity in concert with five or more persons; (4) the defendant acted as the organizer, supervisor or manager of the criminal enterprise; and (5) the defendant obtained substantial income or resources from the purported enterprise." United States v. Garcia, 988 F.2d 965, 967 (9th Cir. 1993); see also 21 U.S.C. § 848(c).

In finding Villasenor-Villa guilty of this crime, the jury returned a verdict which specifically found that Villasenor-Villa managed, supervised, or organized seven persons: (1) Marcos Solano-Farias; (2) Jose Misael Ayala-Talavera; (3) Gilberto Duran-Contreras; (4) Carlos Cerda-Carpio; (5) Marco Pantoja; (6) Mariah Villasenor-Villa; and (7) "Martin, " whose last name is unknown. For purposes of this motion, Villasenor-Villa assumed that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that he was in a position of management over four people: Solano-Farias; Ayala-Talavera; Cerda-Carpio; and Villasenor-Rodriguez). Mot. Mem., Dkt. 240, at 2. He says that the evidence does not support such a finding, however, for the remaining three: Duran-Contreras; Martin; and Pantoja. The Court agrees with the defendant as to Pantoja; there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Villasenor-Villa occupied a management position over him. But substantial evidence supports the jury's ...

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