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United States of America v. Sartaj Chahal

September 23, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
SARTAJ CHAHAL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on defendant Sartaj Chahal's ("Chahal") motion for a new trial. The court heard oral argument on the motion on September 19, 2011, and by this order now renders its decision on the motion.

BACKGROUND

Chahal moves for a new trial, arguing his conviction was unlawfully obtained on tainted testimony, including:

(1) government witness Surinder Pal Singh's ("Surinder") untruthful testimony about his methamphetamine use after his arrest (perjured testimony which the government failed to correct); (2) Surinder's false testimony that he was not receiving anything from the government in return for his testimony (which testimony was again not sufficiently corrected by the government); and (3) government witnesses Rajdeep Singh's and Hardeep Singh's incomplete testimony regarding their plea agreements. Chahal alternatively argues he is entitled to a new trial based on a Brady violation by the government pertaining to the disclosure of Surinder's positive drug test. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963).

STANDARD

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) provides in relevant part: "The court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." The Ninth Circuit has emphasized that a motion for new trial should only be granted in exceptional cases in which the evidence preponderates heavily against the verdict. United States v. Rush, 749 F.2d 1369, 1371 (9th Cir. 1984). The burden of justifying a new trial rests with the defendant. United States v. Shaffer, 789 F.2d 682, 687 (9th Cir. 1986).

Under Rule 33(b)(2), a defendant must file a motion for a new trial "grounded on any reason other than newly discovered evidence" within 14 days after the verdict or finding of guilt. Here, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Chahal on April 20, 2010. Chahal did not file the instant motion until July 11, 2011. Thus, unless Chahal's motion is truly "grounded" on "newly discovered evidence," his motion is untimely and the court lacks jurisdiction to hear it. United States v. Lara-Hernandez, 588 F.2d 272, 275 (9th Cir. 1978). Any motion grounded on newly discovered evidence may be filed within 3 years after the verdict or finding of guilty. Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(b)(1).

ANALYSIS

1. Timeliness of Motion

In response to the motion, the government first argues the motion should be denied because the at-issue evidence is not "newly discovered." Regarding Surinder's positive drug test, the results were disclosed to the defense on April 21, 2010, the day after trial concluded. The government argues that because the disclosure was made within the initial 14 day period prescribed by the Rule, the evidence should not be deemed newly discovered. Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(b)(2) (providing that "any motion for a new trial grounded on any reason other than newly discovered evidence must be filed within 14 days after the verdict or finding of guilty"). As to Surinder's testimony regarding his plea agreement, the government emphasizes that the testimony was given during trial on April 13, 2010, and Surinder's plea agreement and Jenks statements were turned over to the defense prior to trial. Similarly, witnesses Rajdeep and Hardeep Singh testified during trial (on April 12, 13 and 14, 2010), and their plea agreements and Jenks statements were turned over to the defense prior to trial.

Evidence is considered "newly discovered" if it was disclosed after the time of trial. United States v. Kulczyk, 931 F.2d 542, 548 (9th Cir. 1991); United States v. Krasny, 607 F.2d 840, 843 (9th Cir. 1979). Here, the above facts are not in dispute. Thus, as to Chahal's arguments regarding Surinder, Rajdeep and Hardeep's plea agreement testimony, the motion is untimely. Said testimony occurred during trial and all relevant information pertaining to their plea agreements was provided to the defense prior to trial. Accordingly, the evidence is not newly discovered, and the court must deny Chahal's motion for a new trial to the extent it raises issues pertaining these witnesses' plea agreement testimony. Because the motion was untimely filed on that issue, the court is without jurisdiction to hear it. Lara-Hernandez, 588 F.2d at 275.

However, as to the disclosure of Chahal's positive drug test, the government received the results on April 19, 2010, a day prior to the conclusion of trial. The government did not disclose the information to the defense until April 21, 2010--the day after trial concluded on April 20. As such, the disclosure occurred after the time of trial (albeit by only one day), and the court must therefore consider the evidence newly discovered. The plain language of the Rule does not support any other conclusion. A 14 day period is prescribed for any motion not grounded on newly discovered evidence. The Rule does not define "newly discovered evidence," and it does not state, as the government argues, that any evidence disclosed 14 days after trial shall not be considered "newly discovered." Indeed, case law interpreting Rule 33 has consistently held that "newly discovered" means simply any evidence "discovered after the trial." See e.g. Krasny, 607 F.2d at 843. The government fails to cite, nor is the court aware of, any case where evidence was not treated as newly discovered because disclosed within 14 days of trial. Here, because the government ...


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