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United States v. Lynch

United States District Court, C.D. California

January 5, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
SANDRA KAY LYNCH, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR POST-VERDICT JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL OR A NEW TRIAL (DOC. 812)

JOSEPHINE L. STATON, District Judge.

Before the Court is defendant Sandra Kay Lynch's Motion for Post-Verdict Judgment of Acquittal or a New Trial. (Doc. 812.) The Government filed an opposition (Doc. 815) but Defendant did not reply. After reviewing the papers and supporting documentation submitted by the parties, and having taken the matter under submission, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Sandra Kay Lynch ("Lynch" or "Defendant") was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286, for agreeing to file false federal income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") (Count One). ( See SACR 11-209 Indictment, Doc. 1 ¶ 9.) Following a jury trial, Lynch was acquitted of this conspiracy count. (Doc. 816.) However, Lynch was also charged with, and convicted of, two counts of making false, fictitious or fraudulent claims against the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287 ("section 287") (Counts Eighty-Seven and Eighty-Eight).[1] ( See Indictment ¶¶ 76-79.) In particular, Lynch was charged with causing two false federal individual tax returns to be filed with the IRS, which collectively claimed nearly $750, 000 in false tax refunds. Count Eighty-Seven charged Lynch with the filing a false federal income tax return on behalf of Marva Dillon, which sought a refund of $430, 582, while Count Eighty-Eight charged her with the filing a false federal income tax return on behalf of Ronnie Pratt, which sought a refund of $315, 656. ( See id. ) Lynch was also charged with aiding and abetting these two substantive offenses, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2. ( See id. )

Defendant has since moved for a judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, on the ground that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient for a reasonable jury to find her guilty of Counts Eighty-Seven and Eighty-Eight. ( See Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities at 4-5 ("Def. Mem."), Doc. 812.) Defendant has also moved for a new trial, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, on the ground that she was prevented from introducing allegedly exculpatory testimony from a co-defendant, Eugene Marzette. ( See id. at 6.)

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 ("Rule 29) permits a court, upon motion by a defendant, to set aside a guilty verdict and "enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). The Ninth Circuit applies a two-step inquiry when a conviction is challenged based on the sufficiency of the evidence. "First, a reviewing court must consider the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the prosecution." United States v. Nevils, 598 F.3d 1158, 1164 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc). "Second, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the reviewing court must determine whether this evidence, so viewed, is adequate to allow any rational trier of fact [to find] the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Id. (emphasis in original) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, (1979)). See also McDaniel v. Brown, 558 U.S. 120, 132-33 (2010) (reaffirming this standard); United States v. Thongsy, 577 F.3d 1036, 1040 (9th Cir. 2009). "At this second step, however, a reviewing court may not ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, ' only whether any ' rational trier of fact could have made that finding." Nevils, 598 F.3d at 1164 (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 318-19) (citation omitted, emphasis in original).

The court must bear in mind that it is the exclusive function of the jury "to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts." Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. Moreover, "[c]onflicting evidence is to be resolved in favor of the jury verdict, and all reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the government.'" United States v. Corona-Verbera, 509 F.3d 1105, 1117 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Alvarez-Valenzuela, 231 F.3d 1198, 1201-02 (9th Cir. 2000)).

B. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 ("Rule 33"), a new trial may be granted upon a defendant's motion when the "interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). For example, a new trial is warranted where the evidence weighs heavily against the verdict. See United States v. Alston, 974 F.2d 1206, 1211-12 (9th Cir. 1992). As explained by the Ninth Circuit, "[a] district court's power to grant a motion for a new trial is much broader than its power to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal.' The court is not obliged to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, and it is free to weigh the evidence and evaluate for itself the credibility of the witnesses." United States v. Kellington, 217 F.3d 1084, 1097 (9th Cir. 2000) (alteration in original) (quoting Alston, 974 F.2d at 1211).

The decision whether to grant a motion for a new trial lies "within the sound discretion of the district court.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Steel, 759 F.2d 706, 713 (9th Cir. 1985)). However, the court's discretion is not unconstrained. The court may only grant a new trial if it finds that "the evidence preponderates sufficiently heavily against the verdict that a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred." Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Government's ...


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