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United States v. Aleman

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

June 22, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
BLAS ALEMAN, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Blas Aleman's (“Aleman”) Rule 29 Motion for Acquittal or New Trial [370] (“Motion”) and his Supplemented Rule 29 Motion for Acquittal or New Trial [372] (“Supplemented Motion”).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 10, 2008, a Grand Jury in the Northern District of Georgia indicted Aleman and four others with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute at least five (5) kilogram so cocaine and at least five hundred (500) grams of methamphetamine. The indictment [10] (“Indictment”) alleges the conspiracy began at least as early as March 9, 2008, and continued until on or about May 12, 2008. ([10]). After being found in Mexico, in March 2016, Aleman was extradited to the United States based upon the charges against him. ([209]).

         During the pre-trial process, in July 2016, Aleman moved, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 15, for leave to take depositions in Mexico of various alibi witnesses, including Dr. Carbajal, a medical doctor Aleman contends treated him in Mexico during the period of his charged conduct. ([246], [259]-[261]). Magistrate Judge Catherine M. Salinas granted the motion. ([262], [264]). Because of safety concerns, the Magistrate Judge required the depositions be conducted in Mexico City, an approximate six-hour drive from the town in which the witnesses live. (Id.).

         On January 10, 2017, counsel for the parties deposed five witnesses in Mexico City. Dr. Carbajal did not appear for his deposition. (See March 1, 2017, Order [303] (“March 1st Order”) at 1). On January 29, 2017, Aleman filed a second motion for leave to depose Dr. Carbajal. ([287]). The Magistrate Judge denied the motion, ([294]), and Aleman objected to the denial, ([295]). On March 1, 2017, the Court overruled Aleman's objections, and denied Aleman's second motion to take Dr. Carbajal's deposition. (March 1st Order at 15).

         On March 28, 2017, the Court issued its Order [350] (“March 28th Order”) on the parties' motions in limine. Aleman sought to exclude, among other things, testimony or evidence regarding his 2005 arrest in Florida for methamphetamine trafficking and his subsequent flight from Florida. (March 28th Order at 11-12). The Court found that Aleman's 2005 arrest and flight was intrinsic evidence offered to explain Aleman's secretive conduct in Atlanta during the time period of the charged offense. The Court allowed the evidence to be used for this limited purpose. The Court required the Government to redact from documents relating to the arrest any reference to the crime charged in the 2005 arrest, and required the following limiting instruction be given:

The Court has allowed evidence that Defendant Aleman was granted bond for an arrest of him in Florida on May 25, 2005 and that, upon release of bond he failed to appear at court proceedings he was required to attend in Florida. This evidence is introduced for a limited purpose. Specifically, you may consider it on the issue whether Defendant was available to commit the crimes with which he is charged in this case and whether he engaged in conduct to avoid detection in engaging in the alleged crimes with which he was charged because he had violated his bond in Florida. You may not speculate on what he was arrested for in Florida and you may not consider the Florida arrest as any evidence that he committed the crime with which he is charged in this case.

(Id. at 14 n.4).[1]

         A jury trial was held from April 10, 2017, to April 13, 2017. Defendant moved for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure at the close of the Government's case and again prior to closing arguments. (Trial Tr. [373]-[376] (“Tr.”) 452-53, 611). On April 13, 2017, the jury found Aleman guilty of Count 1 of the Indictment. ([366]).[2]

         On April 24, 2017, Aleman filed his Motion. The same day, the Court issued an order [371] requiring Aleman to file a corrected brief in support of his Motion to include citations to the trial transcript and record for all references to testimony, arguments, or exhibits admitted at trial. On May 1, 2017, Aleman filed his Supplemented Motion.

         Aleman argues (1) he is entitled to a judgment of acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to convict him; (2) he should receive a new trial because the guilty verdict is against the weight of the evidence of his innocence, including the alibi evidence he presented and the impeachment of Ramon Salazar; and (3) he should receive a new trial because the Court erred in allowing the Government to introduce evidence of his 2005 Florida arrest and flight, and in denying Aleman's second motion for leave to depose Dr. Carbajal.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standards

         1. Rule 29 Judgment of Acquittal

         A motion for acquittal should be granted only “if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction” of the offense charged. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). In considering a Rule 29 motion for judgment of acquittal, the trial court is required to determine whether, viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government and drawing all reasonable inferences and credibility choices in favor of the jury's verdict, a reasonable trier of fact could find that the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. O'Keefe, 825 F.2d 314, 319 (11th Cir. 1987). If there is substantial evidence to support a verdict, it is upheld “unless no trier of fact could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Pinero, 389 F.3d 1359, 1367 (11th Cir. 2005).

         2. Motion for a New Trial

         A motion for a new trial must be granted “if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). In contrast to a Rule 29 motion, on a Rule 33 motion the Court “need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, ” and “may weigh the evidence and consider the credibility of witnesses.” United States v. Martinez, 763 F.2d 1297, 1312 (11th Cir. 1985). To set aside a verdict and grant a new trial, “[t]he evidence must preponderate heavily against the verdict, such that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand.” Id. at 1313 (citation omitted). Motions for new trial based on the weight of the evidence ...


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