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United States v. Tang Nguyen

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 19, 2013

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
TANG (Janny) NGUYEN, Defendant.

Page 1051

William W. Mickle, II, U.S. Attorney's Office, Lincoln, NE, for Plaintiff.

Chad D. Primmer, Primmer Law Firm, Council Bluffs, IA, for Defendant.

ORDER ON RULE 29(C) AND RULE 33 MOTIONS

JOHN M. GERRARD, District Judge.

The defendant has filed two post-verdict motions: a motion for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Fed.R.Crim.P. 29(c), and a motion for new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Crim.P. 33. (Filing 186) For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny both motions.

RULE 29(C) MOTION

On a motion for post-verdict acquittal, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, resolving conflicts in the government's favor, and accepting all reasonable inferences that support the verdict. United States v. Scofield, 433 F.3d 580, 584-85 (8th Cir.2006). The Court will uphold the verdict if there is any interpretation of the evidence that could lead a reasonable-minded jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.

The defendant was convicted of possessing contraband cigarettes, which required evidence that the defendant shipped, transported, received, possessed, sold, distributed, or purchased more than 10,000 cigarettes; that those cigarettes bore no evidence of the payment of applicable State or local cigarette taxes in the State or locality where they were found; that the defendant did so knowingly; and that the defendant did so on or about March 22, 2012. See, filing 159 at 21; 18 U.S.C. 2342(a). The defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient in two ways. First, the defendant suggests briefly that there is no evidence the defendant knew that the cigarettes were taxable. Filing 186-1 at 9. Second, the defendant contends the evidence is insufficient to prove the defendant knowingly possessed the cigarettes. Filing 186-1 at 9-10.

DEFENDANT'S KNOWLEDGE THAT POSSESSION WAS UNLAWFUL

The defendant's first argument harkens back to the defendant's contention, in the context of jury instructions, that the government was required to prove the defendant knew her possession to be unlawful. See, e.g., filings 142 and 148. But in the absence of statutory language or legislative history to the contrary, Congress'

Page 1052

use of the word " knowingly" in a criminal statute aimed at regulating dangerous objects does not itself abrogate the ancient maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse. United States v. Udofot, 711 F.2d 831, 835-36 (8th Cir.1983). An act is done knowingly if the defendant is aware of the act and does not act through ignorance, mistake, or accident. The government is not required to prove that the defendant knew that her acts were unlawful. United States v. Dockter, 58 F.3d 1284, 1288 (8th Cir.1995).

There are limited exceptions to that principle. For instance, in Liparota v. United States, 471 U.S. 419, 420, 105 S.Ct. 2084, 85 L.Ed.2d 434 (1985), the Supreme Court read a specific intent requirement into the crime of food stamp fraud, which punishes " whoever knowingly uses, transfers, acquires, alters, or possesses coupons or authorization cards in any manner not authorized by [the statute] or the regulations." The Court rejected the government's argument that the statute contained no mens rea requirement, and read the statute to require a showing that the defendant knew his conduct to be unauthorized by statute or regulations. Id. at 425, 105 S.Ct. 2084.

The Court analogized the statute to the crime of receiving stolen goods, to which it is a defense that the defendant did not know the goods to be stolen. Id. at 425 n. 9, 105 S.Ct. 2084. And, the Court reasoned, to interpret the statute otherwise would be " to criminalize a broad range of apparently innocent conduct." Id. at 426, 105 S.Ct. 2084. The Court also explained that " requiring mens rea is in keeping with our longstanding recognition of the principle that ambiguity concerning the ambit of criminal statutes should be resolved in favor of lenity." Id. at 427, 105 S.Ct. 2084. But the Court distinguished the statute from ...


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