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United States v. Battle

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 30, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JAMAR BATTLE, Defendant.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         A 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 DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         On the 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.

         Before 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.

         Battle 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. 26.

         At 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.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A court 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)).

         Alternatively, ‘“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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Battle's 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.

         As to 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.

         There 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 ...


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