filed a timely motion for a new trial on the grounds that Counts One and Three of the Indictment charged the defendant with alternate theories of the same crime, and that the Court erred by instructing the jury that it could convict the defendant under both of the alternate theories. This was a more elaborate version of the motion defendant advanced at trial, and this time it was supported by citation to case law. In response to that motion, the Assistant United States Attorney recanted his earlier statement that defendant's argument was untenable but maintained that any error was not prejudicial, as the jury found defendant guilty of only one of the inconsistent counts.
On March 24, 1987, the Court held a hearing on defendant's motion, and it was at that time clear to the Court that it would require a transcript in order to consider that motion properly. The Court had learned that the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia ("PDS") was willing to enter an appearance on behalf of the defendant and to order the transcript without cost to the government. Because of PDS's willingness to enter the case, and because the Court was concerned by defense counsel's failure to question the Indictment and the jury instructions until the trial was nearly over, the Court vacated its earlier appointment of counsel and appointed Ms. Kim Taylor of the Public Defender Service to represent defendant in the remaining proceedings in this case. The Court allowed Ms. Taylor time enough to order and review the trial transcript before taking any other action on defendant's behalf.
On May 8, 1987, defendant, through new counsel, filed a "Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and, In the Alternative, Supplement to Motion for New Trial." On May 15, 1987, the government filed a forceful opposition to this motion. On June 5, 1987, the Court heard oral argument from both sides, and the most notable feature of that argument was the government's presentation. First, the government admitted that the Indictment charged alternate theories of the same crime and that the jury instructions, which were in the relevant points submitted by the government itself and which the government had vociferously defended, were erroneous. (The government did, however, stand by its earlier claim that the jury's verdict cured the error by convicting defendant of only one of the inconsistent counts.) Second, the government embarked on a blistering attack against both the new motion for a judgment of acquittal and the Court's actions in permitting defendant to obtain new, and presumably more prudent, counsel.
The Court has recounted the history of this case in detail so that the motions before it may be seen in proper perspective. As discussed above, now before the Court are a motion for a judgment of acquittal and a motion for a new trial. The government opposes both. With respect to the motion for a judgment of acquittal, the government notes that Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c) specifies that all post-trial motions for a judgment of acquittal be filed within seven days after the jury verdict, and it vigorously maintains that this Rule is a jurisdictional bar against late motions. The government's papers also suggest that, even if the Court were able to consider a motion for a judgment of acquittal at this time, the record does not support such a judgment. With respect to the motion for a new trial, the government admits that the Indictment and instructions erroneously allowed the jury to convict defendant of stealing and receiving the same stolen property, but the government continues to claim that this manifest error was harmless as the jury found defendant innocent of stealing and guilty of receiving the stolen property.
The Court has carefully considered every argument advanced by each party, and it has undertaken extensive research of its own. The Court is convinced that it has the power to enter a judgment of acquittal and that the government utterly failed to present evidence necessary for a reasonable juror to convict defendant of any of the crimes charged. Accordingly, the Court will enter a judgment of acquittal on defendant's behalf. As such, the Court need not -- indeed, cannot -- decide whether the motion for a new trial should be granted.
THE COURT HAS INHERENT AUTHORITY TO ENTER A JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL.
Although the government maintains that the Court is jurisdictionally barred from entering a judgment of acquittal outside the period specified by Rule 29(c), there is no law on that issue in this circuit.
Nor has the Supreme Court spoken directly. But, in a somewhat different context, the Supreme Court has clearly implied that a trial court has the inherent power, if not the duty, to examine the sufficiency of the evidence against a criminal defendant sua sponte.
In United States v. Gaddis, the Supreme Court stated that a trial court confronted with a motion for a new trial is not concerned with grounds for a new trial alone. Rather, it must weigh the sufficiency of the evidence against a defendant before deciding the defendant's motion for a new trial, and, if the evidence does not support the verdict of guilty, set aside that verdict. 424 U.S. 544, 549, 96 S. Ct. 1023, 47 L. Ed. 2d 222 (1976). Only if the evidence supports the verdict, Gaddis holds, may a court go on to consider whether the trial was so flawed that a new trial would be required. Id.
Thus, Gaddis recognizes a Court's responsibility to ensure that the evidence supports the jury's verdict, regardless of whether the defendant has asked the Court to undertake the inquiry. And it strongly supports the idea that a court with jurisdiction over a prosecution must consider whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support a guilty verdict.
Gaddis's implication is now the law of the Third and Ninth Circuits. Those courts have recently held that a trial court has inherent power to enter a judgment of acquittal and may do so at any time after trial as long as the Court has jurisdiction over the action. In the seminal case of Arizona v. Manypenny, 672 F.2d 761, cert. denied, 459 U.S. 850, 74 L. Ed. 2d 98, 103 S. Ct. 111 (1982), the Ninth Circuit found that "Rule 29(c) creates a deadline by which defendants must present motions for a judgment of acquittal to the court; it does not address the court's inherent power to grant such a judgment." Id. at 764. Thus, the Court held that
a court has power to reconsider a timely motion for a judgment of acquittal premised on insufficiency of the evidence when the court, which still retains jurisdiction of the case, decides, in considering another of the defendant's motions, that its earlier denial of the Rule 29 motion was erroneous.