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United States v. Hardee

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 21, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
TERRANCE HARDEE, Defendant.

Matthew T. Smith, Esq., OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Camden, New Jersey, Counsel for Plaintiff.

DAVID RUDENSTEIN, ESQ., David Rudenstein, Esq., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Counsel for Defendant.

OPINION

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant Terrance Hardee's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal Pursuant to Rule 29 and Motion for New Trial Pursuant to Rule 33. For the reasons set forth below, Hardee's Motion will be denied.

I.

The circumstances giving rise to Hardee's conviction began in June, 2012. On June 21, 2012, DEA Agent Greg Sheridan, undercover as a drug courier named Rock, met with John Mitchell, Ralph Dennis, and a confidential informant who helped set up the meeting, Kevin Burk. (Tr. Transc., dkt. no. 61, at 125-26.) In this meeting, Agent Sheridan presented the group with an opportunity to conduct a robbery of a drug stash house. ( Id. ) Approximately a week later, on June 26, 2012, the same group met once again to discuss the cocaine that would be in the stash house, as the group tested Agent Sheridan on his knowledge of drugs to ensure he was not a law enforcement official. ( Id. at 152-53.) The group met again on July 10, 2012, to review the planned robbery. ( Id. at 170.)

On July 15, 2012, the evening before the planned robbery, Mitchell, Burk, Dennis, and Terrance Hardee met at an apartment on Albright Street in Philadelphia. (Gov't. Ex. A at 88.) Dennis and Hardee knew each other already, but this was the first time that Hardee and Mitchell met. ( Id. ) During this meeting, the group spent "a few hours" discussing the plans for the robbery on July 16. ( Id. at 88-89.) In particular, Hardee's role was to tie up anyone they found in the house and use a stun gun to incapacitate them during the course of the robbery. ( Id. at 89.) The group also discussed how they would divvy up the cocaine they recovered; they expected to find fifteen kilograms total, based upon the information they received from Rock. Rock was entitled to three kilograms for helping to stage the robbery, while the remaining cocaine would be split with Mitchell and Dennis taking five kilograms apiece, and Burk and Hardy each receiving one.[1] ( Id. at 90.)

The next morning, July 16, 2012, Hardee met up with the group in Philadelphia, carrying a bag of zip ties and a stun gun. ( Id. at 99.) The group proceeded to Cherry Hill, where they met Rock in a parking lot at a Red Lobster. ( Id. at 102.) From there, they followed Rock to a storage unit in Maple Shade, where Rock and Hardee had a detailed conversation reviewing the plans for the robbery, as Rock and Hardee had never met before. (Tr. Transc., dkt. no. 61, at 178-79.) Hardee indicated that he understood the plans and would even be tying up Rock, whom the group believed would be inside the stash house during the robbery. ( Id. at 188.) Shortly after confirming the plans, Agent Sheridan gave a signal to law enforcement agents nearby, who moved in to arrest Hardee, Mitchell, and Dennis, while Burk (the confidential informant) stayed out of the way. ( Id. at 192.)

On May 23, 2013, Defendant Hardee was found guilty on two counts of a three-count indictment. Under Count I, Hardee was convicted of conspiring with co-Defendant Ralph Dennis to commit robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). (Verdict Sheet, at 1, dkt. no. 57.) Under Count II, Hardee was convicted of conspiring to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. ( Id. at 2.) The jury found that Hardee was not guilty of Count III, which charged Hardee with knowingly and willfully using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to the commission of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A)(i)-(2). ( Id. at 3.)

On June 6, 2013, Hardee filed the instant Motion seeking an order for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, or alternatively an order granting a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33.

II.

Hardee now seeks a judgment of acquittal, and in the alternative, a new trial.

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a) states: "[T]he 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." In reviewing a Rule 29 motion after the rendering of a verdict, a district court must "review the record in the light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the available evidence." United States v. Wolfe, 245 F.3d 257, 261 (3d Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). The Court is required to "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the jury verdict." United States v. Anderskow, 88 F.3d 245, 251 (3d Cir. 1996). This is a "particularly deferential standard of review, " and reviewing courts "must be ever vigilant... not to usurp the role of the jury by weighing credibility and assigning weight to the evidence, or by substituting [the court's] judgment for that of the jury." United States v. Boria, 592 F.3d 476, 480 (3d Cir. 2010) (alterations in original) (quotation marks omitted). Thus, a finding of insufficiency should be "confined to cases where the prosecution's failure is clear." United States v. Leon, 739 F.2d 885, 891 (3d Cir. 1984) (quotation marks omitted).

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) states: "Upon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." The district court "can order a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence only if it believes that there is a serious danger that a miscarriage of justice has occurred - that is, that an innocent person has been convicted." United States v. Davis, 397 F.3d 173, 181 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Johnson, 302 F.3d 139, 150 (3d Cir. 2003)). When a district court evaluates a Rule 33 motion, it does not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government; rather, it "exercises its own judgment in assessing the Government's case." Johnson, 302 F.3d at 150. Nonetheless, ...


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