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In a recent case involving an accusation of extortion, a Federal judge set aside a guilty verdict by the jury.

Why was the case even being heard by a judge, rather than an appellate court?

From the news story, it appears that the judge was second guessing the jury, in other words he apparently decided the facts of the case did not merit a conviction. I thought the only time a judge or appellate court can reverse a jury on a question of fact was if there was a "gross miscarriage of justice". Has that standard changed? Can judges now set aside jury verdicts if they just disagree with the jury's interpretation of the facts?

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    It's wasn't a "state jury verdict", it was a federal jury verdict and the judge, Leo T. Sorokin, that set aside the verdict was presiding over the trial. This apparently wasn't an unexpected result: bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/08/07/… – Ross Ridge Feb 12 at 23:49
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This is a Federal court decision

There are no state courts involved.

This was a ruling by the presiding judge of the original trial

There is no appeal involved because the case wasn't final.

This is a ruling on a Motion for Judgement of Acquittal

Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure spells this out:

After the government closes its evidence or after the close of all the evidence, the court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.

The court may reserve decision on the motion, proceed with the trial (where the motion is made before the close of all the evidence), submit the case to the jury, and decide the motion either before the jury returns a verdict or after it returns a verdict of guilty or is discharged without having returned a verdict.

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The case was heard by a jury, Sorokin was the presiding judge. He ruled on a defense motion for a judgment of acquittal, which is why the matter was not (yet) heard by an appeal court. The only public explanation at the moment is that

After a careful review of the entire record in this case, including the parties’ substantial post-trial briefs, the Court takes the unusual step of setting aside the jury’s guilty verdicts and directing the entry of verdicts of NOT GUILTY as to both Brissette and Sullivan on all charges. This action is required based on the government’s failure to prove that either man committed the charged offenses.

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