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United States v. Becknell

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

October 31, 2013

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Amos Becknell, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE

The court has before it defendant Amos Becknell’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (Dkt. 65). The court denies the Motion for the following reasons.

I. Background

On April 23, 2013, a grand jury returned a five count indictment charging Becknell with five counts: possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and three counts of felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). On August 13, 2013, the government filed a superseding indictment alleging the same charges. The case proceeded to trial on September 17, 2013. On September 20, 2013, the jury found Becknell guilty of all five charges.

Becknell filed this motion on September 24, 2013, within the fourteen-day deadline set out in Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c), arguing that the court should enter a judgment of acquittal based on insufficiency of the evidence.

II. Legal Standard

In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, a court reviews the record de novo to determine whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. Irvin, 682 F.3d 1254, 1266 (10th Cir. 2012). The court “must consider the entire record, including both direct and circumstantial evidence, together with the reasonable inferences to be drawn from it.” United States v. Mendez, 514 F.3d 1035, 1041 (10th Cir. 2008). “The evidence presented to support a conviction must be substantial; it must do more than raise a mere suspicion of guilt.” United States v. Morales, 108 F.3d 1213, 1221 (10th Cir. 1997) (citing United States v. Sanders, 929 F.2d 1466, 1470 (10th Cir. 1991)). The conviction must be supported by substantial evidence, but “it need not conclusively exclude every other reasonable hypothesis and it need not negate all possibilities except guilt.” United States v. Vallejos, 421 F.3d 1119, 1122 (10th Cir. 2005). The court cannot consider the credibility of witnesses or weigh conflicting evidence, because “these matters are within the exclusive providence of the jury.” United States v. Magallanez, 408 F.3d 672, 682 (10th Cir. 2005). “Reversal is only appropriate if no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Burkley, 513 F.3d 1185, 1190 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Austin, 231 F.3d 1278, 1283 (10th Cir. 2000)).

III. Analysis

a. Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute

The jury in this case convicted Becknell of possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). “To sustain a conviction of possession with intent to distribute under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), the government must prove that a defendant: (1) possessed a controlled substance, (2) knew he possessed a controlled substance, and (3) intended to distribute the controlled substance.” Burkley, 513 F.3d at 1190 (quoting United States v. Jenkins, 175 F.3d 1208, 1215-1216 (10th Cir. 1999)).

At trial, the court instructed the jury on the elements of this crime. See Dkt. 60, Jury Instruction Number 13. The court also instructed the jury on possession:

The law recognizes two kinds of possession: actual possession or constructive possession. A person who knowingly has direct physical control over a thing at a given time is then in actual possession of it. A person who, although not in actual possession, knowingly has both the power and the intention at a given time to exercise dominion or control over a thing, either directly or through another person or persons, is then in constructive possession of it.
In the situation where the object is found in a place (such as a room or car) occupied by more than one person, you may not infer control over the object based solely on joint occupancy. Mere control over the place in which the object is found is not sufficient to establish constructive possession. Instead, in this situation, the ...

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