United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. Schroeder, United States District Judge.
the court is the renewed motion of Defendant Jonathan
Morrison Norris for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29
of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Doc. 31.) The
Government has filed a response. (Doc. 32.) For the reasons
set forth below, the motion will be denied.
was charged with a drug conspiracy in a single-count
indictment containing five objects. (Doc. 1.) The case was
tried to a jury from September 11-14, 2017. At the close of
the Government's evidence, Norris moved for judgment of
acquittal under Rule 29 as to all charges. The Government did
not resist, and the court granted, Norris's Rule 29
motion as to object three -unlawful possession of
pseudoephedrine with reasonable cause to believe it would be
used to manufacture methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§§ 802(34)(K) and 841(c)(2) and object five -
distribution of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §
841(a)(1). As to the remaining objects, the court denied the
renewed his Rule 29 motion at the close of the case, even
though the Defendant elected not to testify or present
evidence. After four days of trial involving the testimony of
eight cooperating co-conspirators and two law enforcement
officers, the case was submitted to the jury on object one
-conspiracy to knowingly or intentionally distribute 500
grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a
detectable amount of methamphetamine, a schedule II
controlled substance within the meaning of 21 U.S.C. §
812, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); object two -
conspiracy to knowingly or intentionally manufacture a
quantity of a mixture or substance containing a detectable
amount of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance
within the meaning of 21 U.S.C. § 812, in violation of
21 U.S.C. § 841(a); and object four - conspiracy to
knowingly or intentionally possess equipment, chemicals,
products, and materials which may be used in the manufacture
of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance within
the meaning of 21 U.S.C. § 812, knowing, intending, and
having reasonable cause to believe that they will be used to
manufacture methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §
jury convicted Norris on all three objects. Norris renewed
his Rule 29 motion after the jury returned its verdict, and
the court reserved ruling when Norris accepted the
court's invitation to brief his argument.
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a), at the close of the
Government's evidence “the court on the
defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of
any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain
a conviction.” Such a motion for acquittal may be
renewed at the close of all the evidence (Rule 29(a)), and
again after the jury returns its verdict (Rule 29(c)(1)).
Norris moved at each of these stages. As noted, the court
granted his motion as to objects three and five after the
close of the Government's evidence but denied it as to
the remaining objects.
defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence faces a
heavy burden.” United States v. Foster, 507
F.3d 233, 245 (4th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), cert.
denied, 128 S.Ct. 1690 (2008). The court must view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the Government,
determining whether any rational trier of fact could find the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
United States v. Collins, 412 F.3d 515, 519 (4th
Cir. 2005); Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319
(1979). Circumstantial as well as direct evidence must be
considered, and a conviction may rely entirely on the former.
United States v. Gallimore, 247 F.3d 134, 137 (4th
Cir. 2001); United States v. Harvey, 532 F.3d 326,
334 (4th Cir. 2008). Indeed, “circumstantial evidence .
. . may be sufficient to support a guilty verdict even though
it does not exclude every reasonable hypothesis consistent
with innocence.” United States v. Osborne, 514
F.3d 377, 387 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v.
Jackson, 863 F.2d 1168, 1173 (4th Cir. 1989)).
the court must be satisfied that there is substantial
evidence: that is, when viewed in the light most favorable to
the Government, “evidence that a reasonable finder of
fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a
conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable
doubt.” United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849,
862 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc). In assessing the evidence, the
court is mindful that “[t]he jury, not the reviewing
court, weighs the credibility of the evidence and resolves
any conflicts in the evidence presented.” United
States v. Beidler, 110 F.3d 1064, 1067 (4th Cir. 1997)
(quoting United States v. Murphy, 35 F.3d 143, 148
(4th Cir. 1994)). Moreover, the court must “assume that
the jury resolved all contradictions . . . in favor of the
Government.” United States v. United Med. &
Surgical Supply Corp., 989 F.2d 1390, 1402 (4th Cir.
1993). Finally, the evidence must be viewed cumulatively and
in context, not in piecemeal fashion. Burgos, 94
F.3d at 863 (citing Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419
order to prove each of the three objects of the conspiracy
with which Norris was charged, the Government must show
beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) from on or about January
1, 2014, continuing up to and including February 17, 2017,
two or more persons came to a mutual agreement or
understanding to accomplish a common and unlawful plan, as
charged in the indictment as to that object of the
conspiracy; (2) the Defendant knew of the conspiracy as to
that object; and (3) the Defendant knowingly and voluntarily
became a part of the conspiracy as to that object.
Burgos, 94 F.3d at 857. To support a conviction for
any object of the conspiracy, this showing must be made
separately as to that object.
conspiracy can be inferred from the totality of the
circumstances. Id. at 857-58. Indeed, “[b]y
its very nature, a conspiracy is clandestine and covert,
thereby frequently resulting in little direct evidence of
such an agreement.” Id. at 857. For this
reason, “a conspiracy generally is proved by
circumstantial evidence and the context in which the
circumstantial evidence is adduced.” Id.
Relevant evidence includes “a defendant's
‘relationship with other members of the conspiracy, the
length of the association, [the defendant's] attitude
[and] conduct, and the nature of the conspiracy.'”
Id. at 858 (quoting United States v.
Collazo, 732 F.2d 1200, 1205 (4th Cir. 1984)). The
Government must prove both the existence of the conspiracy
and the defendant's connection to it beyond a reasonable
doubt, yet it “need not prove that the defendant knew
the particulars of the conspiracy of all of his
coconspirators.” Id. It is sufficient that the
defendant joined a conspiracy with an understanding of its
unlawful nature and willfully joined in the plan on one
contends that the Government's evidence is insufficient
for a reasonable jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt
that he committed these crimes. He devotes nearly all his
discussion to the first object, conspiracy to distribute 500
grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a
detectable amount of methamphetamine. Norris argues that,
because the co-conspirator witnesses were all awaiting
sentencing for their involvement in this conspiracy, their
testimony is “so inherently incredible that a judgment
of acquittal is appropriate.” (Doc. 31 at 2.) He
grounds this argument in the fact that the cooperating
witnesses had been incarcerated for extended periods of time
and could not be believed when they were offering their
testimony in hopes of receiving a sentence reduction.
also argues that no packaging material used to transport the
methamphetamine was ever found in his possession; no
methamphetamine was shown to have been sent to, or from, his
home address; the police never found any methamphetamine on
his person, or in his home or vehicle; he was never the
target of a controlled buy; and there is no evidence that he
lived the “high lifestyle” of a “dealer in
pounds of meth.” (Id. at 2-4.) Norris also
points to possible inconsistencies in the testimony of
various witnesses. Finally, he challenges the ...