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Sufficiency review essentially addresses whether the government’s case was so lacking that it should not have even been submitted to the jury. On sufficiency review, a reviewing court makes a limited inquiry tailored to ensure that a defendant receives the minimum that due process requires: a meaningful opportunity to defend against the charge against him and a jury finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The reviewing court considers only the “legal” question whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That limited review does not intrude on the jury’s role to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.
Petitioner Musacchio resigned as president of Exel Transportation Services (ETS) in 2004, but with help from the former head of ETS's information-technology department, he accessed ETS's computer system without ETS's authorization through early 2006. In November 2010, Musacchio was indicted under 18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2)(C), which makes it a crime if a person “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access” and thereby “obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” He was charged in count 1 with conspiring to commit both types of improper access and in count 23 with making unauthorized access “on or about” November 24, 2005. In a 2012 superseding indictment, count 1 dropped the charge of conspiracy to exceed authorized access, and count 2 changed count 23's date to “on or about” November 23-25, 2005. Musacchio never argued in the trial court that his prosecution violated the 5-year statute of limitations applicable to count 2. At trial, the Government did not object when the District Court instructed the jury that §1030(a)(2)(C) “makes it a crime . . . to intentionally access a computer without authorization and exceed authorized access” even though the conjunction “and” added an additional element. The jury found Musacchio guilty on counts 1 and 2. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conspiracy conviction and argued, for the first time, that his prosecution on count 2 was barred by §3282(a)s statute of limitations. In affirming his conviction, the Fifth Circuit assessed Musacchio's sufficiency challenge against the charged elements of the conspiracy count rather than against the heightened jury instruction, and it concluded that he had waived his statute-of-limitations defense by failing to raise it at trial.
Must sufficiency-of-evidence challenge be assessed against elements of charged crime rather than elements set forth in erroneous jury instruction?
The court held that where the district court's instruction on the elements of conspiracy to make unauthorized access to a computer under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1030(a)(2)(C) incorrectly added the element of exceeding authorized access, and the government failed to object, the sufficiency of the evidence was properly measured against the elements of the charged crime, not against the erroneously heightened instruction. Musacchio could not successfully raise the statute of limitations bar under 18 U.S.C.S. § 3282(a) for the first time on appeal. Section 3282(a) provides a nonjurisdictional defense, and a district court's failure to enforce an unraised limitations defense under § 3282(a) cannot be plain error.