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United States v. Johnson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 15, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MORRIS GEMAL JOHNSON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         At the end of a seven-day trial, a jury deliberated for less than two hours before it found defendant Morris Gemal Johnson guilty of all of the charges against him: two counts of Unlawful Receipt or Possession of an Unregistered Firearm and Destructive Device, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5861(d), 5871; two counts of Unlawful Making of a Firearm, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5861(f), 5871; two counts of Possession of a Weapon of Mass. Destruction, in violation of 22 D.C. Code § 3154(a); and one count of Conspiracy to Smuggle Goods into the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. (See Verdict Form, ECF No. 143.) Through sixteen witnesses and myriad exhibits, the government presented extensive evidence that Johnson made and possessed two improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) and conspired to smuggle machine guns, machine gun parts, and silencers into the United States.[1] Johnson presented two witnesses-an explosives expert and his mother-and nothing that defense counsel presented, whether through cross-examination or the affirmative admission of evidence, meaningfully challenged the credibility of the government's witnesses or attacked the substance of the government's proof.

         Before this Court at present is Johnson's motion for a new trial. (See Def.'s Mot. For New Trial (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 155.) Johnson makes two arguments in support of his motion. First, Johnson argues that the government failed to prove that the charged IEDs were unlawful either under federal law or under District of Columbia law, because the government relied “only” on evidence that a mousetrap could render the devices functional. (See Id. at 9; see also Id. at 2-13.)[2] Second, Johnson generally and summarily requests reconsideration of this Court's denial of his motion for severance of the conspiracy count from the counts related to the possession and manufacture of the IEDs. (See Id. at 13.) The government filed an opposition to Johnson's motion for a new trial (see Gov't's Opp'n to Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 162); however, defense counsel did not opt to file a reply (see generally Docket).

         For the reasons explained below, Johnson's motion for a new trial will be DENIED.

         I.

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) provides that “[u]pon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). The D.C. Circuit has explained that a new trial “is warranted only in those limited circumstances where ‘a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred.'” United States v. Wheeler, 753 F.3d 200, 208 (D.C. Cir. 2014 (quoting United States v. Rogers, 918 F.2d 207, 213 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). In considering a motion for a new trial, this Court sits as a “thirteenth juror, ” and thus may weigh the evidence and consider witness credibility in light of its observations during the trial. See Tibbs v. Florida, 457 U.S. 31, 38 n.11, 42 (1982). It is the defendant's burden to “overcome [the] strong presumption . . . in favor of upholding the jury verdict.” Rogers, 918 F.2d at 213 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         II.

         The jury in the instant case convicted Johnson of six counts related to the two IEDs, including two counts of possession of a weapon of mass destruction in violation of District of Columbia law. (See Verdict Form, Counts 3 (Exhibit 300) and 6 (Exhibit 301).) Section 22-3154(a) of the D.C. Code makes it unlawful to possess “a weapon of mass destruction capable of causing multiple deaths, serious bodily injuries to multiple persons, or massive destruction of property[.]” D.C. Code § 22-3154(a). The D.C.

         Code further defines a weapon of mass destruction as

(A) Any destructive device that is designed, intended, or otherwise used to cause death or serious bodily injury, including:
(i) An explosive, incendiary, or poison gas:
(I) Bomb;
(II) Grenade;
(III) ...

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