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United States v. Lovett

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

January 30, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
WILLIE CLINTON LOVETT, Defendant.

ORDER

WILLIAM T. MOORE, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Willie Clinton Lovett's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, or in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial. (Doc. 184.) For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

On August 5, 2014, Defendant, an African-American former officer in the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department ("SCMPD") who retired after being named Chief of Police, was named in nine counts of a superseding indictment. (Doc. 109.) In the superseding indictment, Defendant was charged with one count of aiding and abetting commercial gambling in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1955, one count of conspiracy to obstruct enforcement of state criminal laws in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1511, five counts of extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and two counts of making false statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. (Id.) Defendant elected to proceed to trial, which was held from November 17 to 21, 2014.

At the beginning of the trial, the Court randomly selected thirty-two individuals to form a jury panel, from which the parties would ultimately select twelve jurors and two alternate jurors. After conducting a voir dire examination and excusing seven potential jurors for cause, the thirty-two member panel consisted of seven African-Americans. Of those seven, two African-Americans were chosen for the twelve-member jury.

At the conclusion of jury selection, Defendant challenged the Government's preemptory challenges as improperly based on potential jurors' race. Defendant argued that the Government using five of its seven strikes to remove African-American jurors established a prima facie case of discriminatory jury selection under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), and required the Government to provide race-neutral reasons for striking those jurors. The Court disagreed, reasoning that merely identifying the Government's use of all but two of its strikes on African-American jurors was insufficient to establish a prima fade case of discrimination under Batson. After stating its position, the Court asked Defendant if there was "any other argument you want to make or any other law that you want to cite to the Court other than what you've done." Defendant declined the Court's invitation.

During the five-day jury trial, the Government presented twenty-four witnesses and approximately one hundred and fifty exhibits. Among the witnesses were the owner of the illegal gambling operation, co-Defendant Randall Wayne "Red" Roach; several law enforcement officers; and a paid informant who operated one of Mr. Roach's illegal gambling games. Their testimony and the associated evidence suggested that Defendant, both prior to and while serving as Chief of the SCMPD, accepted payment from Mr. Roach in exchange for protecting the operation from local law enforcement. At the conclusion of the trial, Defendant was convicted on each count of aiding and abetting commercial gambling and conspiracy to obstruct enforcement of state criminal laws; both counts of making false statements; and two of the five counts of extortion. (Doc. 175.)

As part of his request for acquittal, Defendant contends that the Government failed to present any evidence that Defendant actually obstructed the enforcement of state criminal laws. (Doc. 184 at 2-7.) According to Defendant, the Government's evidence establishes that the decision not to make any arrests for illegal gambling was made by the responding officers prior to any involvement by Defendant. (Id.) Also, Defendant argues that the Government failed to offer at trial any evidence that the alleged extortion payments had any effect on interstate commerce. (Id. at 7-9.) Finally, Defendant reasons that the Government did not offer any evidence that would establish Defendant's alleged false statements were made within the Southern District of Georgia. (Id. at 9-10.)

With respect to his request for a new trial, Defendant argues that he is entitled to a new trial because the Court incorrectly denied his Batson challenge. (Id. at 10-14.) According to his motion, Defendant maintains that the Government's decision to exercise five of its seven strikes against African-American potential jurors established a prima facie case under Batson and required the Government to provide race-neutral reasons for those strikes. (Id. at 12-14.) Defendant contends that the Court denied his Batson motion solely on the basis that Defendant used all of his strikes to remove white potential jurors. (Id. at 13.)

In its response, the Government argues that it presented ample evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant aided and abetted commercial gambling, and conspired to obstruct the enforcement of state criminal laws. (Doc. 185 at 2-5.) With respect to the extortion counts, the Government contends that it presented sufficient evidence to permit the jury to find that the transactions had at least a minimal effect on interstate commerce. (Id. at 5-7.) In addition, the Government points to evidence that establishes Defendant made the false statements within the Southern District of Georgia. (Id. at 7-8.) Finally, the Government maintains that Defendant failed to establish even a prima facie Batson challenge, which is a prerequisite for requiring the Government to provide race-neutral reasons for its strikes. (Id. at 8-11.)

ANALYSIS

I. DEFENDANT'S REQUEST FOR ACQUITTAL

In assessing a motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Court must determine if the evidence presented at trial would allow a reasonable jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the elements of a charged offense. United States v. Gamory, 635 F.3d 480, 497 (11th Cir. 2011). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the Government, with all reasonable inferences and credibility determinations resolved in the Government's favor. Id . After reviewing the evidence in ...


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