United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AND/OR
MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL 
O. CARTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Nader Salem Elhuzayel’s
(“Elhuzayel” or “Defendant”) Motion
for Judgment of Acquittal and/or Motion for a New Trial
(“Motion”) (Dkt. 177). For the reasons stated
below, the Court DENIES the Motion.
21, 2016, after a 10-day trial, a jury returned a verdict of
guilty on all counts charged against Defendant Nader Salem
Elhuzael (“Elhuzayel” or
“Defendant”). See Jury Verdict Form
(Dkt. 167). The jury specifically found Elhuzayel guilty of
the following crimes: Conspiracy to Provide Material Support
and Resources to a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,
18 U.S.C. § 2339B (Count One); Attempting to Provide
Material Support and Resources to a Designated Foreign
Terrorist Organization, 18 U.S.C. § 2339B (Count Two);
and Bank Fraud, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1344, 2 (Counts Four
28, 2016, Elhuzayel filed the instant Motion. In the Motion,
Elhuzayel seeks either a judgment of acquittal pursuant to
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, or a new trial
pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. Mot. at 2.
The United States of America opposed on July 18, 2016 (Dkt.
186), and Elhuzayel filed a reply on July 28, 2016 (Dkt.
190). The Court held a hearing on the Motion on August 1,
2016. See Minutes of Motion Hearing (Dkt. 191).
Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal
Rule 29 motion is basically a challenge to the sufficiency of
the evidence.” United States v. Wong, No.
CR-12-0483 EMC, 2014 WL 923347, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 5,
2014). “In ruling on a Rule 29 motion, the relevant
question is whether, 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.
Alarcon-Simi, 300 F.3d 1172, 1176 (9th Cir. 2002).
“[T]he government does not need to rebut all reasonable
interpretations of the evidence that would establish the
defendant’s innocence, or rule out every hypothesis
except that of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
U.S. v. Nevils, 598 F.3d 1158, 1164 (9th Cir. 2010)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). However,
“evidence is insufficient to support a verdict where
mere speculation, rather than reasonable inference, supports
the government’s case, or where there is a total
failure of proof of a requisite element.” Id.
Motion for a New Trial
Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 authorizes the Court, on motion
of a defendant, to “vacate any judgment and grant a new
trial if the interest of justice so requires.” A
“motion for a new trial is directed to the discretion
of the district judge. It should be granted only in
exceptional cases in which the evidence preponderates heavily
against the verdict.” United States v.
Pimentel, 654 F.2d 538, 545 (9th Cir. 1981). The
defendant has the burden to justify the need for a new trial.
United States v. Shaffer, 789 F.2d 682, 687 (9th
Elhuzayel argues the evidence offered at trial was
insufficient in a number of regards. With respect to Counts
One and Two, Defendant Elhuzayel argues (1) the government
presented insufficient evidence to show, beyond a reasonable
doubt, the Islamic State was a designated foreign terrorist
organization (“FTO”) at the time of his arrest,
Mot. at 4-5; and (2) the government presented insufficient
evidence that Elhuzayel was under the control of the Islamic
State, id. at 5-7. With respect to Counts Four
through Twenty-Nine - the bank fraud charges - Elhuzayel
argues the government presented insufficient evidence that he
possessed knowledge of the fraudulent scheme involving his
bank accounts. Id. at 9-10.
separately argues the admission into evidence of certain
images was both irrelevant and unduly prejudicial. Further,
because they were found on the co-Defendant’s phone, he
argues the Court should have granted a severance.
Id. at 10.
Rule 29 Motion
Court will address these arguments in turn, beginning with
the sufficiency of evidence arguments brought pursuant to
Islamic State as a Designated Foreign Terrorist
Court will first consider Elhuzayel’s argument
regarding the designation of the Islamic State as an FTO.
Generally, Elhuzayel argues he could not be convicted of
Counts One and Two because the State Department had not
designated, under 8 U.S.C. § 1189(b) the
English-language term “Islamic State” as an alias
for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(“ISIL”), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq
and Syria (“ISIS”), at the time of his arrest.
Id. Because the Islamic State was formally
designated on September 21, 2015, four months after
Defendant’s arrest, Elhuzayel contends the “act
was not criminal at the time of its commission.” Mot.
at 4 (citation omitted).
Court rejects this argument for several reasons. First,
Defendant provides no legal authority suggesting the
government must prove that every alias of an FTO has
beenformally designated as an alias under 8 U.S.C. Section
1189(b). Indeed, the existing authority suggests otherwise.
See National Council of Resistance of Iran v. Department
of State, 251 F.3d 192, 200 (D.C. Cir. 2001). As the
D.C. Circuit explained,
It would simply make no sense for us to hold that Congress
empowered the Secretary to designate a terrorist
organization-so as to . . . prevent anyone in the United
States from providing material resources or support the
organization-only for such periods of time as it took such
organization to give itself a new name, and then let it
happily resume the same status it would have enjoyed had it
never been designated. If the Secretary has the power to work
those dire consequences on the same entity calling itself
“Organization A, ” the Secretary must be able to
work the same consequences on the same entity while it calls
itself “Organization B.”
Id. at 200; see also United States v.
Sadequee, No. 1:06-cr-147-WSD, 2009 WL 3785566, at *4
(N.D.Ga. Nov. 10, 2009) (“Even if Defendant Ahmed did
meet with ‘JUD representatives, ’ the evidence at
trial was that JUD representatives and LeT representatives
were one in the same.”). The Court agrees with this
logic. If Defendant’s position were adopted,
organizations would be incentivized to change their names on
a regular basis, and individuals could escape liability far
too easily. Thus, the Court finds the government did not need
to prove the particular term “Islamic State” was
included in the FTO designation at the time of
defendant’s arrest; rather, the government ...