United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Superseding Indictment charged ten counts against both
Defendants Donald V. Watkins, Sr. and Donald V Watkins, Jr.:
Count One--Conspiracy to Commit Bank or Wire Fraud; Counts
Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, & Eight--Wire Fraud;
and Counts Nine & Ten--Bank Fraud. (Doc. 4). Both
Defendants chose to proceed pro se. After a lengthy two week
trial with over 30 witnesses and more than 200 exhibits, a
jury found Defendant Donald V. Watkins, Sr. guilty of all ten
counts and Defendant Donald V. Watkins, Jr. guilty of only
Counts One and Two and not guilty on Counts Three through
Ten. (Docs. 157 & 158). The court denied both
Defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal at the
close of the Government's case and again at the close of
all of the evidence. (Docs. 153, 154, 155, & 156).
the jury verdict, both Defendants Watkins, Sr. and Watkins,
Jr. filed pro se motions for judgment of acquittal or, in the
alternative, for a new trial. (Docs. 163 & 164). The
Government filed a consolidated response (doc. 168) and both
Defendants filed replies, with Defendant Watkins, Jr. now
represented by counsel (docs. 178 & 179). For the
following reasons, the court DENIES both motions for judgment
of acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. (Docs. 163
Defendants raise two separate legal issues: whether the court
should enter a judgment for acquittal on his behalf under
Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 and whether the court should grant a new
trial Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. Each standard of review will be
discussed in turn.
Motion for Judgment of Acquittal
motion for judgment of acquittal allows the court to
determine if the evidence submitted is insufficient to
sustain a conviction. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a)
(“After the government closes its evidence or after the
close of all the evidence, the court on the defendant's
motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for
which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a
conviction.”). “A district court may overturn the
jury's verdict and enter a judgment of acquittal under
Rule 29 only ‘if there is insufficient evidence to
sustain the verdict.'” United States v.
Gilbert, No. 2:17-cr-00419-AKK-TMP, 2018 WL 5253517, at
*1 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 22, 2018) (quoting United States v.
Williams, 390 F.3d 1319, 1324 (11th Cir. 2004)). And the
court must uphold the conviction “unless the jury could
not have found the defendant guilty under any reasonable
construction of the evidence.” United States v.
Frank, 559 F.3d 1221, 1233 (11th Cir. 2010).
court must resolve evidentiary disputes in favor of the
Government. “In ruling upon a Motion for Judgment of
Acquittal, a district court must determine whether the
relevant evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the
Government, could be accepted by a jury as adequate and
sufficient to support the conclusion of the defendant's
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v.
Varkonyi, 611 F.2d 84, 85 (5th Cir. 1980). The court
“must accept all reasonable inferences tending to
support the Government's case, ” and must resolve
“any conflicts in the evidence” in the
Government's favor. United States v. Taylor, 972
F.2d 1247, 1250 (11th Cir. 1992). Further, the court
“must accept all reasonable inferences and credibility
determinations made by the jury.” United States v.
Molina, 443 F.3d 824, 828 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting
United States v. Sellers, 871 F.2d 1019, 1021 (11th
Motion for New Trial
court may vacate a judgment and grant a new trial “if
the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P.
33. On a motion for new trial based upon the weight of the
evidence, the court “may weigh the evidence and
consider the credibility of the witnesses.” United
States v. Martinez, 763 F.2d 1297, 1312 (11th Cir.
1985). Unlike the motion for judgment of acquittal, the court
does not have to view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the verdict. See Id. However,
“[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. Courts
have “substantial discretion in determining whether to
grant such a motion.” United States v.
Estrada-Lopez, 259 F.Supp.2d 1358, 1371 (M.D. Fla.
do not favor motions for new trial based upon the weight of
the evidence and should grant such motions “sparingly
and with caution, doing so only in those really
‘exceptional cases.'” Martinez, 763
F.2d at 1313 (quoting United States v. Lincoln, 630
F.2d 1313, 1319 (8th Cir. 1980)). In the past, “courts
have granted new trial motions based on weight of the
evidence only where the credibility of the government's
witnesses had been impeached and the government's case
had been marked by uncertainties and discrepancies.”
Defendants' two motions are intertwined. “If the
court enters a judgment of acquittal after a guilty verdict,
the court must also conditionally determine whether any
motion for a new trial should be granted if the judgment of
acquittal is later vacated or reversed.” Fed. R. Crim.
P. 29(d)(1). The court will analyze the motions for judgment
of acquittal before turning to the motions for a new trial.
Motions for ...