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United States v. Slaughter

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 27, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF
v.
TOMMY M. SLAUGHTER, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for New Trial (DN 73). For the reasons discussed below, the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Tommy Slaughter (“Slaughter”) was indicted on three counts: (1) knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine; (2) knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin; and (3) knowingly possessing a firearm as a felon. (Indictment 1-2, DN 1). A jury was impaneled to hear the case on June 27, 2017. (Order 1, DN 71). The next day, after the close of testimony, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict as to Count 1 (lesser included offense of possession of controlled substance, Count 2 (lesser included offense of possession of controlled substance), and Count 3. (Jury Verdict, DN 69). Now, Slaughter moves for a new trial. (Def.'s Mot. New Trial, DN 73). The United States has responded, and Slaughter has replied. The matter is ripe for decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “Upon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). As the Sixth Circuit has noted, “[t]he rule ‘does not define interest[] of justice' and the courts have had little success in trying to generalize its meaning.'” United States v. Munoz, 605 F.3d 359, 373 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Kuzniar, 881 F.2d 466, 470 (7th Cir. 1989)). However, “it is widely agreed that Rule 33's ‘interest of justice' standard allows the grant of a new trial where substantial legal error has occurred.” Id. (citations omitted) (surveying authorities); see also Kuzniar, 881 F.2d at 470 (“Courts have interpreted [Rule 33] to require a new trial ‘in the interest[] of justice' in a variety of situations in which the substantial rights of the defendant have been jeopardized by errors or omissions during trial.” (citation omitted)). Generally, “any error of sufficient magnitude to require reversal on appeal is an adequate ground for grating [a] new trial.” United States v. Smallwood, No. 5:08-CR-00038-TBR, 2012 U.S Dist. LEXIS 175686, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 11, 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. Wall, 389 F.3d 457, 474 (5th Cir. 2004)).

         It is the defendant's burden to prove that a new trial should be granted. United States v. Seago, 930 F.2d 482, 488 (6th Cir. 1991); 3 Charles Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 581 (4th ed., rev'd 2017) (“A motion for a new trial is based on the presumption that the verdict against the defendant is valid; therefore the burden is on the defendant to demonstrate that a new trial ought to be granted.”). The decision to grant or deny such a motion “rests within the district court's sound discretion”, and “new trial motions are disfavored and should be granted with caution.” Seago, 930 F.2d at 488; United States v. Willis, 257 F.3d 636, 645 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Slaughter argues that the Court's denial of his pre-trial motion to suppress and pretrial motion to dismiss Count 3, as well as its refusal to tender his theory-of-defense instruction to the jury, were errors that entitle him to a new trial. Each argument is addressed in turn.

         A. Motion to Suppress

         Slaughter asks the Court to “reconsider and reverse” its pre-trial order denying Slaughter's motion to suppress for two reasons. (Def.'s Mot. New Trial 3). First, “[s]ince the testimony and evidence at the suppression hearing, as well as at trial (plus jury verdicts), demonstrated a narcotic transaction never occurred, ” the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop-and-frisk of Slaughter. (Def.'s Mot. New Trial 3). Second, the “new, altered” testimony of Officer Benzing takes this case outside of Terry; Officer Benzing actually conducted a “full-blown custodial arrest” of Slaughter, which arrest was “legally unjustified” and “lacking in probable case.” (Def.'s Mot. New Trial 3-4). More particularly, Slaughter explains that, at the suppression hearing, Officer Benzing “endeavored to describe suspicious activity that [he] though or believed may or may not have been a hand-to-hand narcotics transaction in a high-crime rea of Louisville, ” but never testified that he “saw a crime committed.” (Def.'s Mot. New Trial 2). To the contrary, Slaughter avers, Officer Benzing at trial “repeatedly claimed to have witnessed a narcotics transaction” and admitted that, as a result, he conducted “a full-blown custodial arrest” of Slaughter. (Def.'s Mot. New Trial 3).

         The Court declines to reverse its prior order. After a hearing on Slaughter's motion to suppress, the Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation in which he found that the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop-and-frisk of Slaughter. (R. & R., DN 27). The Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and explained its reasons for doing so. (Mem. Op. & Order, DN 29). There is no need to rehash that analysis here. Furthermore, contrary to Slaughter's argument otherwise, Officer Benzing's testimony at trial mirrored his testimony at the suppression hearing. In both instances, Officer Benzing testified that the group of officers he, and the squad he was patrolling with, effected the stop because, based on the circumstances and his experience as a police officer, he saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand narcotics transaction.

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         A defendant may move before trial to dismiss an indictment or any count of it that “fail[s] to state an offense . . . .” Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(3)(B)(V). “[A]n indictment is sufficient if it, first, contains the elements of the offense charged and fairly informs a defendant of the charge against which he must defend, and, second, enables him to plead an acquittal or conviction in bar of future prosecutions for the same offense.” United States v. Anderson, 605 F.3d 404, 411 (6th ...


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