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United States v. Robinson

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

August 23, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
LADARRIUS ROBINSON DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          Harry F. Barnes, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Severance. ECF No. 121. The Government has responded. ECF No. 127. The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 23, 2018, Defendant was named in eight counts of a twenty-five count Second Superseding Indictment (hereinafter the “Indictment”) that also named as Co-Defendants Fredrico Bradley (hereinafter “Bradley”), James Manuel (hereinafter “Manuel”), Christopher Manning (hereinafter “Manning”), and Ricardo Walker. ECF No. 77. On May 17, 2018, Bradley entered a plea agreement in which he plead guilty to Count One of the Indictment and admitted to “knowingly, intentionally, and unlawfully combin[ing], conspir[ing], confederating, and agree[ing] with [co-Defendants] James Manuel, Christopher Manning, and others to distribute” various controlled substances.[1] No. 4:17-cr-40014-1, ECF No. 104, ¶ 5(a). Defendant now moves for severance.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure (8)(b) governs the joinder of defendants and states that:

The indictment or information may charge 2 or more defendants if they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction, or in the same series of acts or transactions, constituting an offense or offenses. The defendants may be charged in one or more counts together or separately. All defendants need not be charged in each count.

         However, even if joinder is proper under Rule 8(b), Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(a) provides that “[i]f the joinder of . . . defendants . . . for trial appears to prejudice a defendant or the government, the court may order separate trials of counts, sever the defendants' trials, or provide any other relief that justice requires.” The Eighth Circuit has observed that “the decision to grant severance to a defendant from a joint trial is within the district court's discretion.” United States v. Young, 753 F.3d 757, 778 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing United States v. Ortiz, 315 F.3d 873, 898 (8th Cir. 2002)). A defendant who seeks severance carries a heavy burden of showing that severance is warranted. Id. at 777-78 (citing United States v. Sandstrom, 594 F.3d 634, 644 (8th Cir. 2010)). “[W]here a defendant demonstrates that a joint trial will prejudice his right to a fair trial, the court must sever the trials.” United States v. Engleman, 648 F.2d 473, 480-81 (8th Cir. 1981) (citation omitted). Furthermore, the Court “may sever trials if it appears that compelling or severe prejudice will result to the defendant.” Young, 753 F.3d at 777 (citing United States v. Pherigo, 327 F.3d 690, 693 (8th Cir.2003)). “Prejudice is ‘some appreciable chance that defendants would not have been convicted had the separate trial they wanted been granted.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Sandstrom, 594 F.3d 634, 644 (8th Cir. 2010) (quotation and citation omitted)).

         The Eighth Circuit has stated that “[d]efendants may show real prejudice to their right to a fair trial by demonstrating that their defense is irreconcilable with a codefendant's defense, or the jury will be unable to properly compartmentalize the evidence as it relates to the separate defendants. Id. (citing United States v. Mueller, 661 F.3d 338, 347-48 (8th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 566 U.S. 955 (2012)). Accordingly, a “defendant must demonstrate more than a higher probability of acquittal had severance been granted.” Id. (citing Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 540 (1993)). “[S]evere prejudice may occur when evidence against one defendant is admitted despite it not being admissible had a defendant been tried alone.” Id. at 778 (citing Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539).

         However, “[g]enerally, persons charged in a conspiracy should be tried together, especially when proof of the charges against the defendants is based upon the same evidence and acts.” Id. (quoting Mueller, 661 F.3d at 347 (quotation and citation omitted)). “A joint trial is preferable because it ‘gives the jury the best perspective on all of the evidence and, therefore, increases the likelihood of a correct outcome.'” Id. (quoting Pherigo, 327 F.3d at 693 (quotation and citation omitted)). Finally, appropriate limiting instructions may adequately address any risk of prejudice. See Sandstrom, 594 F.3d at 644 (noting that the government had cited “the Supreme Court and this court's recognition that the risk of prejudice from a joint trial is best resolved through jury instructions[.]”); see also Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 540 (“When the risk of prejudice is high, a district court is more likely to determine that separate trials are necessary, but, . . . less drastic measures, such as limiting instructions, often will suffice to cure any risk of prejudice.”).

         DISCUSSION

         In the instant motion, Defendant moves the Court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(a), for a separate trial.[2] Defendant argues that a joint trial would be unfairly prejudicial to him. Defendant bases his arguments for severance on two contentions: (1) that allowing a joint trial will result in evidence that does not pertain to Defendant being used against him and (2) that allowing a joint trial will result in Bradley's testimony and admission of guilt being used against Defendant although Bradley has only admitted to conspiring with Co-Defendants Manuel, Manning, and “others.”

         In response, the Government argues that Defendant has failed to carry his burden of showing that severance is justified. The Government states that it has informed the remaining Defendants of Bradley's “decision to cooperate and testify on behalf of the United States and has provided each a summary of Bradley's anticipated testimony.” ECF No. 127, p. 1. The Government contends that severance is not required simply because evidence that is admissible and relevant to co-defendants may be damaging to ...


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