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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

July 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SEAN JAREL WILLIAMS, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SEVER

          C. J. Williams, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on defendant Sean Williams' Motion to Sever Defendants for Trial. (Doc. 98). The government timely resisted the motion. (Doc. 101). For the following reasons, defendant's motion is denied.

         II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         On April 24, 2019, a grand jury returned an Indictment charging defendant and six others in a twelve-count indictment. (Doc. 8). Count 1 charges all of the named defendants with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Counts 2 and 3 charge Cortez Nelson with distribution of a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 860(a). Counts 4 through 8 charge defendant's brother, Jarel Williams, with distribution of a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Count 9 charges Devonte Horton with distribution of a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Counts 10 and 11 charge Dewon Meeks with distribution of a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). And Count 12 charges Walter Murray with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).

         III.ANALYSIS

         Defendant Sean Williams moves to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants, citing Rule 14(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Doc. 98, at 1). Rule 14(a) permits relief from prejudicial joinder:

If the joinder of offenses or defendants in an indictment, an information, or a consolidation 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.

Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a). A defendant attempting to establish prejudice under Rule 14(a) “carries a heavy burden.” United States v. Sandstrom, 594 F.3d 634, 644 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Swinney, 970 F.2d 494, 500 (8th Cir. 1992)). Joint trials “promote efficiency” and “play a vital role in the criminal justice system.” Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 537 (1993) (quoting Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 209 (1987)). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained the rationale for placing a “heavy burden” on defendant to show real and clear prejudice:

The danger of prejudice to a defendant is inherent in any proceeding in which the Government tries a single defendant for multiple crimes. For example, a jury may improperly use evidence of one crime to infer that a defendant committed another offense. Indeed, a jury may cumulate evidence to find guilt on all crimes, whereas it would not have found guilt on any crime, if it had considered the offenses separately. Only in an unusual case, however, will the prejudice resulting from a joint trial be substantial enough to outweigh the general efficiency of joinder. Accordingly, separate trials are required only where prejudice caused by a joint trial is severe or compelling.

United States v. Kirk, 528 F.3d 1102, 1107-08 (8th Cir. 2008) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         As noted, defendant is charged in Count 1 with conspiring with his co-defendants to distribute controlled substances. “The general rule is that co-conspirators should be tried together.” United States v. Adams, 401 F.3d 886, 895 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). In conspiracy cases, “severance will rarely, if ever, be required.” United States v. Searing, 984 F.2d 960, 965 (8th Cir. 1993). Thus, defendant's burden here, is even heavier because he begins with a stronger presumption that he should be tried together with his co-conspirators.

         A defendant may meet the heavy burden of establishing a prejudicial joinder by showing that “(a) his [or her] defense is irreconcilable with that of his [or her] co-defendant or (b) the jury will be unable to compartmentalize the evidence as it relates to the separate defendants.” United States v. Sanchez-Garcia, 685 F.3d 745, 754 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Davis, 534 F.3d 903, 916-17 (8th Cir. 2008)).

         Defendant argues that there is “the potential for mutually antagonistic defenses” because the defendants will be “pointing the finger at each other.” (Doc. 98-1, at 3-4). Defendant has not actually identified his defense or that of any co-defendant that he claims are mutually antagonistic. Defendant's claim of conflicting defenses is vague and speculative. A district court may grant severance “only upon a showing of real prejudice to an individual defendant” if the defendant is jointly tried. United ...


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