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United States v. Trejo

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 8, 2016

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Isabel Mata Trejo Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: April 13, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, LOKEN and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted Isabel Mata Trejo of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, but acquitted her of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. She challenges her conviction on two grounds. First, she argues that the district court[1] should have granted her motion for acquittal because the evidence is insufficient to support the conspiracy conviction. Second, she contends that the district court abused its discretion in submitting a deliberate ignorance instruction to the jury. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I.

         In March 2013, law enforcement officers began observing Mata Trejo's property after receiving information that liquid methamphetamine, originating in Mexico or California, was being converted to solid form on the property. A residence, where Mata Trejo lived, and a garage were located on the property. A flatbed trailer stood 40 feet from the residence. Officers positioned themselves in the woods near Mata Trejo's property for surveillance purposes. During their surveillance of the property, they observed two males walk between the residence, garage, and flatbed trailer. At one point, one of the men walked out of the residence holding a gallon jug of liquid and retrieved aluminum pans from underneath the trailer. With the assistance of the other man, he poured liquid from the jug into the aluminum pans and placed the pans back underneath the trailer. On another occasion, the investigators observed one of the same men digging on the property. Mata Trejo was never seen going into the garage, but the investigators did observe her walking around the property at or near the garage. The investigators conducted controlled buys at different locations, including a secluded location near Mata Trejo's property, at which they observed vehicles that they had seen on Mata Trejo's property. At the controlled buys near Mata Trejo's property, the methamphetamine was packaged in dirt-encrusted bags or Tupperware containers.

         In May 2013, a search warrant was executed on Mata Trejo's property. In Mata Trejo's house, officers discovered $4, 000 in small denominations of United States currency, a firearm, scales, and eight cellular telephones, including two that belonged to Mata Trejo. In a wooded area north of her residence, approximately 5, 050 grams of methamphetamine were found buried in the ground in Tupperware containers and plastic bags. In the garage, officers discovered empty Tupperware containers, hot plates, scales, strainers, and a heat sealer, items commonly found in methamphetamine conversion labs. Officers also noticed an extension cord running from within the residence to the garage providing power to the garage.

         Mata Trejo was charged in three counts of a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine and 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(viii), and 846; possession with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(viii), and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924 (c)(1)(A). Some of Mata Trejo's co-defendants pled guilty, but Mata Trejo and one other co-defendant proceeded to trial.

         At trial, the government presented significant evidence of the manufacture, distribution, and storage of methamphetamine on Mata Trejo's property. Mata Trejo testified that she was not aware of any illegal drug activity on her property and did not go into the garage because it was very messy, but a man named "Camaro" requested permission to store a bag of clothes in the garage for $3, 000. She thought that the packaging materials found in the garage may have belonged to Camaro. Mata Trejo claimed ownership of the $4, 000 and the firearm found in her residence.

         The jury found Mata Trejo guilty of engaging in a conspiracy to distribute drugs, but acquitted her of the other charges. Mata Trejo moved for acquittal on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury verdict on the conspiracy charge in light of the jury's acquittal of Mata Trejo on the possession charge. The district court denied the motion, finding that there was sufficient evidence to support Mata Trejo's conviction. This appeal followed.

         II.

         On appeal, Mata Trejo argues that the district court erred in denying her motion for acquittal and abused its discretion in giving a deliberate ignorance instruction to the jury. We will consider these arguments in turn.

         A.

         "We review a motion for judgment of acquittal under a de novo standard of review." United States v. Espinosa. 585 F.3d 418, 423 (8th Cir. 2009). Mata Trejo argues that the district court erred in denying her motion for acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction on the conspiracy charge. Specifically, Mata Trejo argues that the jury's acquittal as to the charge of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine is inconsistent with the conclusion that the government met its burden of proof as to the elements of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. When considering a jury verdict that a party characterizes as inconsistent, we ask "whether the government presented sufficient evidence to support the conviction. We are reluctant to delve into the minds of the jurors to determine the reasons for apparently inconsistent verdicts." United States v. Opare-Addo. 486 F.3d 414, 416 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted). "We review the sufficiency of the evidence de novo, viewing 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." Unit ...


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