United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
federal grand jury charged Defendant Jamar Battle
(“Battle”) with being a convicted felon in
possession of a firearm and ammunition, in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Battle proceeded to trial and a jury
found him guilty. He now moves for judgment of acquittal
under Rule 29 or for a new trial under Rule 33 of the Federal
Rules of Criminal Procedure. Def.'s Br., ECF No. 43. For
the reasons set forth below, the motion is
night of July 4, 2018, near the corner of Avon Avenue and
Treacy Avenue in Newark, New Jersey, a dispute between Battle
and his girlfriend caused Battle to fire his gun at a vehicle
driven by a friend of the girlfriend. One of the bullets
inadvertently struck and injured a minor who was walking
nearby with her father.
trial, the Government and Battle stipulated that he had a
prior felony conviction and that the firearm or ammunition
had traveled in interstate commerce. That left the Government
only having to present evidence that Battle knowingly
possessed a firearm or ammunition.
filed a motion in limine to exclude the father's
testimony about the shooting and the minor's medical
records, as neither would show he possessed a gun. The Court
agreed with Battle, in part, excluding the medical records,
but allowing the father to testify about the shooting without
mentioning his daughter's age. The Court further ordered
that no parties or witnesses were permitted to mention the
minor's age or medical treatment records. Order, ECF No.
trial, the Government presented evidence that Battle
possessed a firearm and ammunition. The Government's case
included the testimony of Battle's girlfriend, the friend
of the girlfriend whose car was shot at, and an individual
who lived in the area where the incident took place. Their
testimonies, along with video surveillance footage, text
messages from Battle's cell phone, and phone records,
supported a finding that Battle was on Avon Avenue at the
time of the shooting. After three days of hearing argument
and presenting evidence, including the stipulations, the jury
returned a guilty verdict.
reviews a Rule 29 sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge
“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. . . . [and]
there is substantial evidence . . . to uphold the jury's
decision.” United States v.
Caraballo-Rodriguez, 726 F.3d 418, 430 (3d Cir. 2013)
(en banc) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
The sole task is to determine “whether the jury's
verdict is permissible.” United States v.
McKee, 506 F.3d 225, 232 (3d Cir. 2007). “Thus, a
finding of insufficiency should ‘be confined to cases
where the prosecution's failure is clear.'”
United States v. Smith, 294 F.3d 473, 477 (3d Cir.
2002) (quoting United States v. Leon, 739 F.2d 885,
891 (3d Cir. 1984)).
‘“the court may vacate any judgment and grant a
new trial if the interest of justice so requires.”'
United States v. Cimera, 459 F.3d 452, 458 (3d Cir.
2006) (quoting Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a)). When evaluating a
motion for a new trial, the court does not view the evidence
in the light most favorable to the Government “but
instead exercises its own judgment in assessing the
Government's case.” United States v.
Johnson, 302 F.3d 139, 150 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation
omitted). Motions for a new trial ‘“are to be
granted sparingly and only in exceptional cases.'”
United States v. Brennan, 326 F.3d 176, 189 (3d Cir.
2003) (quoting Gov't of V.I. v. Derricks, 810
F.2d 50, 55 (3d Cir. 1987)). A court can only order a new
trial when it “believes that the jury verdict is
contrary to the weight of the evidence . . . [and]
‘there is a serious danger that a miscarriage of
justice has occurred-that is, that an innocent person has
been convicted.'” United States v.
Silveus, 542 F.3d 993, 1004-05 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Johnson, 302 F.3d at 150).
motion for post-trial relief raises two main issues. He
contends the record lacks necessary evidence to support his
conviction. He then asserts the Government made improper
statements in rebuttal during closing argument, which compels
a new trial.
the insufficient evidence argument, the jury was instructed,
without objection, that the Government had to prove beyond a
reasonable doubt that: (1) the defendant had a prior felony
conviction; (2) after his prior felony conviction, the
defendant knowingly possessed a firearm or ammunition; and
(3) his firearm or ammunition traveled in interstate
commerce. Trial Tr. Vol. 3, 421:14-422:5, ECF No. 39; see
United States v. Huet, 665 F.3d 588, 596 (3d Cir. 2012)
(listing three elements of a Section 922(g)(1) offense).
Battle stipulated to the first and third elements. Thus, the
only element at play was whether he knowingly possessed the
gun or ammunition.
was substantial evidence here supporting the conviction. The
Government relied on testimony from witnesses who placed
Battle at the scene of the shooting; video footage showing
the shooting victim walking with her father and, minutes
later, shots being fired on the same street Battle and his
girlfriend were seen having a dispute; testimony that Battle
was the shooter in the video; and text messages and phone
records from Battle's cell phone ...