US v. Bijan Rafiekian

Docket Number: 22-4252
Judge: WYNN
Opinion Date: May 18, 2023

A jury convicted Defendant of one count of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and one count of criminal conspiracy. The district court granted a judgment of acquittal as to both charges and conditionally granted a new trial in the event the judgment of acquittal was reversed on appeal. On appeal, in Rafiekian I, the Fourth Circuit reversed the judgments of acquittal, vacated and remanded the court’s new-trial order, and noted that the district court “may have additional justifications for its decision” that it failed to explain. On remand, ordered a new trial. The government appealed.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because the government’s case relied on the jury’s drawing inferences of guilt, the district court had no choice but to examine those inferences in considering the new trial motion. Barring the district court from granting a new trial based solely on disagreement with the jury’s inferences of guilt would place this class of cases beyond the reach of the new-trial standard. The government is entitled to rely on circumstantial evidence, but it is not entitled to special deference when it does so.
In this case, because the district court determined that a new trial was warranted based on the weight of the evidence, the court’s role is only to ask whether the court abused its discretion in doing so. Exercising “great deference” to the district court’s “discretionary assessments of the balance of the evidence,” the court held that it did not. View “US v. Bijan Rafiekian” on Justia Law

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