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UNITED STATES v. EDMONDS

June 4, 1991

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RODGER EDMONDS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

 CHARLES R. RICHEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 On May 7, 1991, Rodger Edmonds was convicted on three criminal counts: (1) conspiracy to distribute 50 or more grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) and 846; (2) distribution of 50 or more grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and (3) distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), 845a and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c), Edmonds now renews his motion for a judgment of acquittal. In the alternative, Edmonds requests a new trial based on the insufficiency of the evidence pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. Upon consideration of the Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and Motion for New Trial, the Government's opposition thereto, the record herein, and the applicable law, the Court hereby denies the Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and denies the Motion for a New Trial.

 II. BACKGROUND

 Rodger Edmonds was charged with conspiracy to distribute 50 or more grams of cocaine base, distribution of 50 or more grams of cocaine base, and distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school. Three other individuals -- Ali Zamani, Julius Harrison and Anthony Morse -- were also charged as co-conspirators. *fn1" All four were to be tried together. However, on the day of trial, Julius Harrison and Anthony Morse pled guilty. *fn2" The trial of the remaining defendant, Ali Zamani, was severed from the other defendants due to Zamani's serious medical condition. His trial will commence on July 10, 1991.

 Thus, on March 12-15, 1991, the defendant Rodger Edmonds was tried alone. The jury deliberated for approximately two days, and inadvertently indicated on a note to the Court that it was unable to reach a verdict, despite the fact the eleven jurors favored conviction, because one juror "refused to deliberate further." Jury Note, March 15, 1991 at 10:15 a.m. After two more hours passed without a break in the stalemate, the Court declared a mistrial. The Government reinstituted the charges against the Defendant Edmonds and he was tried again on the same three counts on May 6, 1991. For this second trial, the Defendant retained new counsel. Moreover, in contrast to the first trial, the Defendant declined to testify on his own behalf. At this second trial, the jury convicted the Defendant on all three counts.

 Based upon the trial testimony and exhibits, the Government case against the four co-defendants revolves around an alleged scheme to sell drugs to someone who, unbeknownst to the defendants, was an undercover DEA agent. The undercover DEA agent contacted Ali Zamani, a bartender at a local restaurant, and asked Zamani to find cocaine. Acceding to several requests from the undercover agent, Zamani contacted Julius Harrison in the hopes of obtaining some crack cocaine. Harrison then contacted the Defendant Edmonds in order to obtain cocaine. Harrison set up the actual date and time of the transaction with the DEA undercover agent and met the agent at the pre-arranged time and place. Anthony Morse and the Defendant Edmonds were also present when the transaction was consummated, allegedly acting as part of the "team" participating in the deal.

 At trial and in its brief opposing the Defendant's Motion, the Government focused on the testimony of two witnesses in proving its case against the Defendant Edmonds. First, Julius Harrison testified in detail about the Defendant Edmonds' role as Harrison's drug supplier. According to Harrison, Edmonds supplied the crack cocaine and was present when the transaction was consummated. Harrison claimed that Edmonds played an important role in negotiating the sale and that Edmonds also functioned as a look-out.

 The Government also stressed the importance of testimony given by DEA Special Agent Ron Kahn. Agent Kahn was part of the DEA surveillance team monitoring the transaction. Agent Kahn observed the Defendant Edmonds conferring with Julius Harrison at least twice during the time in which Harrison was negotiating the terms of sale with the DEA agents. According to Kahn's observation, Harrison left the DEA agent's car and conferred with the Defendant Edmonds before returning to speak to the DEA agent. Moreover, according to Agent Kahn, Edmonds was a look-out for the transaction, driving his car to the intersection of Third and "E" Streets with a full view of the area in which Harrison was making the exchange with the undercover agent. Agent Kahn testified that Edmonds was looking in the direction of the DEA car and appeared to be watching the transaction unfold. Also, Agent Kahn observed Edmonds flee from the scene as soon as the police converged on the car in which the DEA agents were sitting. The police cornered Edmonds as he allegedly tried to escape. Edmonds was then arrested.

 In his defense, Edmonds argues that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and had no knowledge of the drug activities taking place. According to Edmonds, the Government's evidence is insufficient to sustain a verdict of guilty on any of the three counts. Edmonds contends that the Government's evidence is circumstantial, is based upon an unreliable source (Julius Harrison), and cannot support inferences sufficient to find him guilty of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Alternatively, Edmonds claims that the weaknesses in the Government's case, combined with a letter from Anthony Morse absolving Edmonds of any responsibility for the crime, warrants a new trial.

 III. ANALYSIS

 A. THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL MUST BE DENIED AS THERE IS A SUFFICIENT BASIS UPON WHICH A JURY COULD FIND BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT THAT THE DEFENDANT COMMITTED THE CRIMES CHARGED.

 The Court must deny a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal when, "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Poston, 902 F.2d 90, 94, 284 U.S. App. D.C. 125 (1990) (emphasis in original) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560, 99 S. Ct. 2781 (1979)). Courts accord great deference to juries and allow the jury's determination to stand even when the court may have reached a different conclusion; "when a reasonable mind might fairly have a reasonable doubt of guilt or might fairly have none, the decision is for the jury to make." United States v. Herron, 567 F.2d 510, 514, 185 U.S. App. D.C. 403 (1977); see also United States v. Bethea, 442 F.2d 790, 792, 143 U.S. App. D.C. 68 (1971). This standard recognizes that courts give "full play to the right of the jury to determine credibility, weigh the evidence, and draw justifiable inferences of fact." United States v. Reese, 561 F.2d 894, 898, 183 U.S. App. D.C. 1 (1977); see also United States v. Sutton, 801 F.2d 1346, 1358, 255 U.S. App. D.C. 307 (1986). Accordingly, "there is no requirement of direct evidence against the defendant; the evidence may be entirely circumstantial." United States v. Poston, 902 F.2d at 94, n. 4; see also United States v. Simmons, 663 F.2d 107, 108, 213 U.S. App. D.C. 343 (1979).

 The Defendant claims that there is insufficient evidence to support a verdict because "there is no direct evidence of guilt" and "the circumstantial evidence is so ambiguous that it is as consistent with innocence as with guilt." Defendant's Motion at 3. These claims must fail, however. First, as explained above, there is no requirement of any direct evidence of guilt if there exists sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the verdict. See Poston, supra and ...


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