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United States v. Chavez-Macias

United States District Court, D. Idaho

November 13, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SERGIO CHAVEZ-MACIAS, SERGIO CHAVEZ-VERDUZCO, ARMANDO OROZCO-GUILLEN Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill, Chief Judge United States District Court.

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it motions for acquittal filed by defendants Sergio Chavez-Macias and Sergio Chavez-Verduzco. The motions are fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny both motions.

         LITIGATION BACKGROUND

         The Superseding Indictment in this case charged three defendants (Sergio Chavez-Macias, Sergio Chavez-Verduzco, and Armando Orozco-Guillen) with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. It also charged two of those defendants (Chavez-Verduzco and Chavez-Macias) with four counts of distributing methamphetamine and one count of operating a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE). Prior to trial, the Government dropped one of the four distribution counts, and the case went to trial on the remaining five counts.

         When the Government rested, the three defendants made motions for acquittal under Rule 29. The Court reserved ruling on the motions until the jury verdict was rendered.

         At the conclusion of the trial, the jury rendered a verdict acquitting Orozco-Guillen on the conspiracy charge, acquitting Chavez-Macias and Chavez-Verduzco on the three remaining distribution charges, acquitting Chavez-Macias on the CCE charge, but finding Chavez-Macias and Chavez-Verduzco guilty of the conspiracy charge, and finding Chavez-Verduzco guilty of the CCE charge.

         Chavez-Macias and Chavez-Verduzco now seek through their motions to be acquitted of the charges on which they were convicted. The Court will resolve the motions after reviewing the governing legal standard.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A defendant may move for a judgment of acquittal, or renew such a motion, within fourteen days after a guilty verdict. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c). A motion for acquittal is reviewed for sufficiency of the evidence. U.S. v. Stoddard, 150 F.3d 1140, 1144 (9th Cir. 1998). “Under that standard, 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.” U.S. v. Graf, 610 F.3d 1148, 1166 (9th Cir. 2010). “In ruling on a Rule 29(c) motion, a district court must bear in mind that it is the exclusive function of the jury to determine the credibility of witnesses, resolve evidentiary conflicts, and draw reasonable inferences from proven facts. U.S. v. Rojas, 554 F.2d 938, 943 (9th Cir. 1977). The court may reserve decision and decide the motion after a verdict of guilty if it chooses. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(b). If the court reserves decision, it must decide the motion on the basis of the evidence at the time the ruling was reserved. Id.

         ANALYSIS

         Conspiracy

         The Indictment charged Chavez-Macias and Chavez-Verduzco with conspiring together (and with Armando Orozco-Guillen) to distribute methamphetamine between November of 2012 and continuing to March 1, 2016. To prove this conspiracy, the Government had to prove more than just that Chavez-Macias and Chavez-Verduzco sold drugs to someone else knowing that the buyer would later sell to others; the Government had to show an agreement with a buyer that the buyer would distribute the drugs. U.S. v. Loveland, 825 F.3d 555 (9th Cir. 2016).

         The main evidence tying the two defendants to the conspiracy charge came from witnesses Sgt. Kevin Louwsma and David Wales. Wales testified that in the summer of 2015, he was distributing methamphetamine to an individual named Jimmy Peirsol on a weekly basis, and had been doing so for between 7 months ...


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