In the 2002 science fiction thriller Minority Report, Tom Cruise manipulated a futuristic computer interface by donning special gloves and waving his hands in the air to manipulate holographic screens of images and data. Using this sytem, he was able to see crimes before they were committed, so that the would-be perpetrators could be pre-emptively arrested and punished. This worked in the movie, because the computer interface was connected to a coven of clairvoyant psychics. And because it was just a movie. And because, well, he’s Tom Cruise. But do not try this if you are a federal district judge ruling on a Rule 29 motion in a drug-distribution conspiracy case, because you will only be waving your hands in the air. And that, luckily for Mr. Samuel Navarette-Aguilar, is not good enough.
Mr. Navarette was indicted on a number of drug charges, the aggregate effect of which was to subject him to a mandatory minimum 20-year sentence if, and only if, the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that he conspired to distribute a kilogram or more of heroin. The pertinent evidence consisted of the testimony of Mr. Equihua-Ramirez, who obtained heroin from Mr. Navarette, and Mr. Burns, who bought heroin from Mr. Equihua-Ramirez. Faced with Mr. Navarette’s Rule 29 challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the one-kilogram finding, the district judge engaged in a sort of evidentiary reverse-Tetris, trying to stack these witnesses’ vague and cryptic quantity and frequency references on top of one another such that they would reach the one-kilogram mark. It could not be done.