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7th Cir. Reinstates Jury's Verdict; Defendant Acted Like an Ostrich

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on December 18, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Seventh Circuit has once again proclaimed its appreciation for the ostrich, and continues to perpetuate the myth that ostriches stick their heads in the sand.

In a drug case, the Seventh Circuit revisited the purpose and meaning of the ostrich instruction, and gave the district court the proverbial bird, as it reinstated the jury's conviction.

Gonzalez's Actions (or Inaction)

Christian Gonzalez was indicted and charged with two counts: conspiring to possess with intent to distribute over 1,000 kg of marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute over 1,000 kg of marijuana. He moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the Government's case, and at the close of evidence; the district court denied both motions. After the jury deliberated, Gonzalez was convicted of the conspiracy count only. He then made another motion for judgment of acquittal, which the district court granted -- third time was a charm.

Review of Judgment of Acquittal

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit had to review the district court's grant of his motion for judgment of acquittal de novo. Because the jury had reached a verdict, the court noted that jury findings are "entitled to great deference" and the court would only set aside a verdict where there was "no evidence ... from which a jury could have returned a conviction."

To support a conspiracy conviction requires a defendant's knowledge, and where the defendant sticks his head in the sand, and "deliberately avoided learning the truth," knowledge is proven. Here, the Seventh Circuit found that there was sufficient evidence that Gonzalez, at the very least -- and by his own admission, had a strong suspicion that illegal drugs were involved. He had opportunities to learn more, but went out of his way not to find out more.

If anything, this case is an important reminder to district courts the deference that is given to jury findings. To disregard the conviction of a jury will not be taken lightly, and except in the absence of evidence, courts will not set jury determinations aside.

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