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Federal Post-Conviction Relief

Post-verdict Rule 29 motions

In a post-verdict motion for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c), the Court, in assessing the sufficiency of the evidence, must review the evidence, considered as a whole, including all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict, and decide whether a rational trier of fact could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2790, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); United States v. Alaboud, 347 F.3d 1293, 1296 (11th Cir. 2003).The motion must be filed within 7 days after the jury returns its verdict, or any additional time period allowed by the Court within the 7 days provided by the rule.

The verdict of a jury must be sustained if there was substantial evidence to support it. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 62 S.Ct. 457, 469, 86 L.Ed. 680 (1942). Thus, a criminal defendant has a “heavy burden” in requesting that his jury conviction be overturned based on insufficient evidence. United States v. Santos, 20 F.3d 280, 282-83 (7th Cir. 1994). However, although the standard of review for claims of insufficient evidence is stringent and a difficult one to meet, this does not mean that the reviewing court’s role is one of a perfunctory rubber stamp. Rather, the court’s “responsibility is to ensure that the government has shouldered its burden and adequately proved its case.” United States v. Hardy, 895 F. 2d 1331, 1335 (11th Cir. 1990). In this regard, the government must do more than prove that the defendant’s participation in the crime charged is possible or even plausible. It must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, a criminal conviction based upon piling inference upon inference cannot stand. See i.e., Anderson v. United States, 417 U.S. 211, 224, 94 S. Ct. 2253, 2262, 41 L.Ed.2d 20 (1974). And while the evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence in order to sustain a guilty verdict, a conviction predicated on conjecture cannot be sanctioned by the court. United States v. Toler, 144 F.3d 1423, 1428 (11th Cir. 1998); United States v. Perez-Tosta, 36 F.3d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1145, 115 S.Ct. 2584, 132 L.Ed.2d 833 (1995); United States v. Hardy, supra. Thus, in spite of the stringent standard of review, if the government fails to meet its heavy burden of proof, the reviewing court must set aside the verdict.

Rule 33 motions

A motion for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 33 is addressed to the sound discretion of the district court and is reviewed on appeal under the abuse of discretion standard. United States v. Martinez, 763 F.2d 1297, 1312 (11th Cir.1985). The motion must be filed within 7 days after the jury returns its verdict, or any additional time period allowed by the Court within the 7 days provided by the rule. “On a motion for a new trial based on the weight of the evidence, the court need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. Unlike a motion for a judgement of acquittal made pursuant to Rule 29, the district court may weigh the evidence and consider the credibility of the witnesses.” United States v. Hernández, 433 F.3d 1328, 1335 (11th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1047, 126 S.Ct.1635, 164 L.Ed.2d 346 (2006), quoting, United States v. Martinez,supra, 763 F.2d at 1312. “If the court concludes that, despite the abstract sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the verdict, the evidence preponderates sufficiently heavily against the verdict that a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred, it may set aside the verdict, grant a new trial, and submit the issues for determination by another jury.” Id. However, motions for new trials based on the weight of the evidence are not favored, and courts are to grant them sparingly and with caution. Martinez, 763 F.2d at 1313.

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