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United States v. Aksu

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 2, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MURAT AKSU, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Pending before this Court are Defendant Murat Aksu's Motions for Acquittal (ECF No. 134) and for a New Trial (ECF No. 133) pursuant to Rules 29 and 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, Defendant Murat Aksu's Motion for Acquittal (ECF No. 134) and Motion for New Trial (ECF No. 133) are DENIED.

BACKGROUND

On December 20, 2012, Defendant Murat Aksu ("Defendant" or "Murat") was charged in a two-count indictment with (1) aiding and abetting marriage fraud, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325(c), and (2) naturalization fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1425(c). With respect to Count One of the indictment, Aksu was charged of having aided and abetted his former wife and current life partner, Meltem Meral, to enter into a fraudulent marriage with Jeremy Aubin ("Aubin") for the purposes of obtaining immigration benefits. In Count Two, Aksu was charged with fraudulently obtaining United States citizenship as a result of a sham marriage with Stacy Martin. The case against Defendant Aksu proceeded to trial before a jury of his peers on May 6, 2012.

Evidence presented at trial revealed, that Meltem Meral and Aksu, both Turkish nationals, were first married in Turkey in 2002. They subsequently divorced in early 2003 but later traveled to the United States together in March 2003. They then remarried in New York in August 2004 and ultimately obtained an annulment of this union in December 2004. Nevertheless, evidence introduced at trial, including numerous photographs, demonstrated that their relationship continued thereafter. Moreover, at the time of their arrest, Aksu and Meltem Meral were cohabitating.

During the trial, Jeremy Aubin testified that he and Aksu met while working together at Papa John's. Aubin explained that Aksu introduced him to Meltem Meral in mid-2008 and asked him to marry her in order to help her obtain immigration status and avoid deportation. Aubin testified that he felt bad for Meltem Meral and therefore married her. He also testified that he received payment, in the form of automatic car payments, for entering this union. Additionally, Aubin stated that Aksu actively participated in the marriage arrangements and established Aubin's joint bank account with Meltem Meral. Specifically, he claimed that Aksu asked him for the account information to arrange the car payments and that Meltem Meral was unemployed at the time more than $2, 000 were deposited into the account from which the car payments were automatically debited.

At the conclusion of the Government's case and again at the conclusion of all the evidence, this Court denied Defendant's Motion pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure as to Count One. With respect to Count Two, this Court denied Defendant's Rule 29 Motion at the conclusion of the Government's case. However, at the conclusion of all the evidence, this Court granted Defendant's renewed Rule 29. As such, the case against Aksu proceeded to the jury solely with respect to Count One. Appropriately, the Court gave the jury no explanation as to Count Two and the jury was told not to speculate as to why Count Two was not before them for consideration during jury deliberations. On May 9, 2013, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on Count One of the indictment against Defendant Aksu.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

Pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a court must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense "for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." FED. R. CRIM. P. 29(a). A jury verdict must be sustained, however, if there is substantial evidence to support it, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the Government. Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255, 257 (1992) (citing Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942)). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has "defined substantial evidence' as evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'" United States v. Smith, 451 F.3d 209, 216 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 892 (2006) (citation omitted). In determining whether there is substantial evidence, this Court "must consider circumstantial as well as direct evidence, and allow the government the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the facts proven to those sought to be established." United States v. Tresvant, 677 F.2d 1018, 1021 (4th Cir. 1982).

This Court "can reverse a conviction on insufficiency grounds only when the prosecution's failure is clear.'" United States v. Moye, 454 F.3d 390, 394 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 983 (2006) (citation omitted). Indeed, if "any rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, " the conviction must be sustained. United States v. Murphy, 35 F.3d 143, 148 (4th Cir. 1994) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). Where the evidence presented at trial could support "different, reasonable interpretations, the jury decides which interpretation to believe." Id. (quoting United States v. Garcia, 868 F.2d 114, 116 (4th Cir.), cert denied, 490 U.S. 1094 (1989)).

II. Motion for New Trial

Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure states that a district court may vacate a judgment and grant a new trial upon the motion of a defendant "if the interest of justice so requires." FED. R. CRIM. P. 33(a). Rule 33 motions may be based on either (1) newly discovered evidence or (2) "other grounds." FED. R. CRIM. P. 33(b). Where "other grounds" are invoked, the defendant must show an "error of sufficient magnitude to require reversal on appeal." United States v. Wall, 389 F.3d 457, 474 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting CHARLES A. WRIGHT et al., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 556 (3d ed. 2004)). A new trial will not be granted on the basis of a "harmless error." See FED. R. CRIM. P. 52(a). An error is harmless if "[it is] clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found the defendant guilty absent the error." Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1, 18 (1999).

A new trial is a drastic remedy, intended for a rare case. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has cautioned that a district court should exercise its discretion in this area "sparingly" and that it should grant a new trial "only when the evidence weighs heavily against the verdict." United States v. Perr y, 335 F.3d 316, 320 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Wilson, 118 F.3d 228, 237 (4th Cir. 1997)). A new trial should be granted only if "it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand." United ...


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