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United States v. Robinson

March 14, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kane



In a superseding indictment filed December 8, 2005, Defendants in the above-captioned cases were charged with various crimes involving the interstate transportation of adults and minors for prostitution and money laundering. Currently pending before the Court are a number of ripe pretrial motions filed by several of the remaining Defendants in this case. This memorandum and order will dispose of all pending substantive pretrial motions with the exception of the pending motions to suppress wiretap evidence obtained during the investigation of this case.*fn1 Where possible, the Court has addressed all motions seeking similar relief within a single section of this memorandum.


A. Motions for Bills of Particulars

Defendants Robinson and Britton have each filed motions seeking bills of particulars. (Doc. Nos. 431, 465.) The United States has opposed the motions, contending that the indictment in this case contains far more detail than is required under the law and that places Defendants on sufficient notice of the charges, and maintaining that Defendants have requested information that has already been furnished or which would constitute pretrial discovery to which they are not entitled. Additionally, the United States has expressed concern over protecting the identities of the victims, particularly minors, who are expected to act as key witnesses in support of the Government's case against Defendants.

Defendant Robinson has requested that the Court order the Government to provide the names of the individuals, including women and minors, referenced in support of the overt acts charged in Count 1, conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421, 2422(a), and 2423, as well as the alleged methods of transportation and identity of unindicted co-conspirators that are listed in Counts 10, 14, 15, 18 through 27, and 29, 30, and 31; (2) the names of the women and/or minors referenced throughout the Superseding Indictment; (3) the specific kind of force, fraud, or coercion that was allegedly used in connection with the crimes charged in Counts 8 and 12; (4) the method of transporting women and/or minors with respect to the crimes charged in Counts 9 and 13; and (5) the identification of unindicted co-conspirators mentioned in Count 28.

Defendant Britton broadly requests disclosure of entire categories of information, including the location and time of the alleged acts charged against him and the identity of "any other party or witness involved in the specific acts alleged, including, but not limited to, the unnamed juveniles and the unindicted co-conspirator(s)." (Doc. No. 465, at 3.)

Rule 7(f) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure authorizes a court to direct the Government to file a bill of particulars. Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(f). The purpose of a bill of particulars is "to inform the defendant of the nature of the charges brought against him, to adequately prepare his defense, to avoid surprise during the trial and to protect him against a second prosecution for an inadequately described offense." United States v. Urban, 404 F.3d 754, 771 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting United States v. Addonizio, 451 F.2d 49, 63-64 (3d Cir. 1972)). "Only where an indictment fails to perform these functions, and thereby 'significantly impairs the defendant's ability to prepare his defense or is likely to lead to prejudicial surprise at trial,'" will the Court find that a bill of particulars should be issued. Id. at 771-72 (quoting United States v. Rosa, 891 F.2d 1063, 1066 (3d Cir. 1989)). The Third Circuit has noted that the purpose of a bill of particulars is not to permit "wholesale discovery of the Government's evidence" in advance of trial. United States v. Armocida, 515 F.2d 49, 54 (3d Cir. 1975). The Court has also found that an indictment charging a statutory crime is sufficient if it substantially follows the language of the criminal statute, provided that its generality does not prejudice a defendant in preparing his defense nor endanger his constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy. See United States v. Addonizio, 451 F.2d 49, 58 n.7 (3d Cir. 1971); see also United States v. Eufrasio, 935 F.2d 553, 575 (3d Cir. 1991) (same). The Third Circuit has recently emphasized that the need for a bill of particulars is obviated in those cases where the Government supplements a detailed charging document with substantial discovery. Urban, 404 F.3d at 772. Particularly applicable to this case, the Third Circuit has emphasized that "[a] bill of particulars, unlike discovery, is not intended to provide the defendant with the fruits of the government investigation. . . . Rather, it is intended to give the defendant only that minimum amount of information necessary to permit the defendant to conduct his own investigation." United States v. Smith, 776 F.2d 1104, 1111 (3d Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). In ruling on a request for a bill of particulars, the court should consider all information that has been disclosed to the defendant in the course of the prosecution, whether or not included in the indictment. United States v. Kenny, 462 F.2d 1205, 1212 (3d Cir. 1972).

With the foregoing considerations in mind, the Court concludes that Defendants have not demonstrated the need for a bill of particulars in this case. The indictment itself is especially detailed and provides greater information than is required in a charging document. Although Defendants have requested further disclosure regarding overt acts that are alleged to have been committed in furtherance of the charged conspiracies, the United States rightly points out that it is required only to allege and prove one overt act committed by one co-conspirator in order to prevail on a charge of conspiracy; moreover, the indictment includes scores of overt acts that are alleged to have been committed pursuant to the conspiracy charged in Count I and incorporated in Counts 28 through 31.

The Government has additionally represented that it has provided all Defendants in this case with substantial discovery in advance of trial that will enable Defendants to prepare their defenses to the charges in this case. The Court does not conclude that the discovery already provided to Defendants, as represented by the Government, is inadequate to prepare a defense to the charges such as to militate in favor of a supplemental bill of particulars. Although Defendants have additionally requested the identities of the women, minor girls, and other individuals referenced throughout the indictment, the Court agrees that use of a bill of particulars for such information is both inappropriate and unnecessary in light of the information already provided. The Government has also represented that it has provided information regarding adult victims and witnesses that are involved in this case, and has further represented that it will voluntarily provide the names of Juveniles 1 through 10 under seal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3509(d),*fn2 and therefore the Court finds Defendants' request for detailed information in this regard should be considered moot.

Accordingly, upon consideration of the information contained in the superseding indictment, the substantial discovery that has been made available, and Defendants' failure to persuade the Court that a bill of particulars is either necessary or warranted in this case, the motions for bills of particulars will be denied.

B. Motions to Sever

Defendants Robert Scott, Sr., and Derick Price have each moved to sever their cases from those of their alleged co-conspirators.*fn3 (Doc. Nos. 415, 453.) The United States opposes severance and urges the Court to deny the motions, noting that this Court previously denied Defendant Eric Pennington's motion to sever, and in so doing addressed the standards for joinder and severance under Rules 8 and 14 of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure. Finding it equally applicable to the instant motions, the Court repeats that analysis below.

Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides as follows:

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.

Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(b). The Supreme Court has stated that "[t]here is a preference in the federal system for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together." Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 537 (1993). This preference for joinder "promote[s] efficiency and serve[s] the interest of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts." Id. at 537 (quoting Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 210 (1987)); see also United States v. Eufrasio, 935 F.2d 553, 568 (3d Cir. 1991) ("The public interest in judicial economy favors joint trials where the same evidence would be presented at separate trials of defendants charged with a single conspiracy."). When considering a motion to sever, the Third Circuit has instructed that "participants in a single conspiracy should ordinarily be tried jointly as long as the jury can reasonably be expected to compartmentalize the evidence as it relates to separate defendants and notwithstanding that the evidence against one co-defendant is more damaging than that against another." United States v. Jackson, 649 F.2d 967, 973 (3d Cir. 1981) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Notwithstanding the preference for joint trials, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provide for severance in limited circumstances in order to avoid substantial prejudice to a criminal defendant. Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides, in relevant part: "[i]f the joinder of offenses or defendants in an indictment . . . 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). Where defendants have been properly joined pursuant to Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, "a District Court should grant a severance under Rule 14 only if there is a serious risk that a joint trial would compromise a specific trial right of one of the defendants, or would prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or innocence." Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539. The party seeking severance bears the burden of demonstrating that a joint trial will cause clear and substantial prejudice, resulting in a manifestly unfair trial. United States v. Voigt, 89 F.3d 1050, 1094 (3d Cir. 1996). The Supreme Court has noted that although separate trials may be warranted where the risk of prejudice is substantial, in many cases "less drastic measures, such as limiting instructions, often will suffice to cure any risk of prejudice." Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539. See also Voigt, 89 F.3d at 1096 (noting effectiveness of limiting instruction in which court directed jury to consider each count separately); United States v. Console, 13 F.3d 641, 655-56 (3d Cir. 1993) (limiting instructions can help the jury to "compartmentalize" the evidence as it relates to each defendant).

In the instant case, the United States has asserted that each of the moving Defendants have been charged as co-conspirators in a multi-state prostitution scheme, and the Government has pointed to specific allegations of each Defendant's alleged conduct in furtherance of this conspiracy. Additionally, the United States notes persuasively that severing each of the Defendant's cases would lead to a waste of judicial resources and increase the burden on witnesses, which in this case is expected to include certain witnesses that are particularly vulnerable. Furthermore, neither Defendant has demonstrated clear and substantial prejudice will result from having his case joined with that of his co-defendants'. For all of the foregoing reasons, the motions to sever will be denied.

C. Motions to Strike Aliases and other Alleged Surplusage

Defendants Price, Williams, and Hayes have each moved to strike their aliases from the indictment.*fn4 (Doc. Nos. 455, 174, 478.) In the indictment, Derick Price is referred to as "Coleone" and "Toone," Terrance Williams is referred to as "Sleazy T," and Eric Hayes is referred to as both "International Ross" and "Ross." Defendants contend that use of the foregoing alleged aliases will unduly prejudice them at trial by causing them to appear suspicious to a jury, and they assert that the United States has no legitimate need to introduce the aliases in this case. In response, the United States contends that the aliases are highly relevant to these cases because the Defendants were allegedly often not referred to by their given names, but instead used their aliases or street monikers as their primary identification with associates and prostitutes. For example, the United States asserts that Defendant Price required prostitutes working for him to have his alias "Coleone" tattooed on their bodies as a sign of ownership. In addition, the Government maintains that certain prostitutes will testify at trial that they knew one or more of the Defendants only by their aliases. Accordingly, the Government contends that inclusion of Defendants' aliases is highly relevant to establish the facts of the case with clarity and to provide meaning to the numerous recorded conversations that the United States expects to introduce as evidence in this case. Accordingly, the Government maintains that the aliases in question are not surplusage, but instead constitute materially relevant facts in this case.

Rule 7(d) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure authorizes a court to strike surplusage from an indictment. Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(d) ("Upon the defendant's motion, the court may strike surplusage from the indictment or information."). The Third Circuit considers an alias surplusage that may be stricken where such alias does not serve a useful purpose, such as to identify the accused or protect him from double jeopardy. United States v. Beedle, 463 F.2d 721, 725 (3d Cir. 1972) ("The practice of allowing aliases to exist has been condemned where . . . they serve no useful purpose either to identify the accused or to protect him from double jeopardy."). In Beedle, the alias served "no useful purpose" because it resulted solely from a misspelling made by the Assistant United States Attorney. Id. In contrast, "an alias in an indictment, even one with strong negative connotations, is permissible if it is needed to connect the accused to the acts charged." United States v. Vastola, 899 F.2d 211, 232 (3d Cir. 1990), rev'd on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1001 (1990).

In light of these considerations, and the United States' representation that the aliases in question are relevant in this case to aid in the identification of the Defendants, to provide proper context for the wiretap conversations expected to be introduced at trial, and to establish Defendants' connections to the charged crimes, the Court finds that the motions to strike the aliases should be denied. However, if the United States fails to offer proof relating to the aliases that have been listed and which the United States contends are relevant and necessary to prosecute the charges against Defendants, the motions may be renewed and, if appropriate, the aliases struck, and an appropriate precautionary instruction given to the jury. United States v. Addonizio, 313 F. Supp. 486, 491 (D.N.J. 1970); see also United States v. Harriston, 329 F.3d 779, 792 (11th Cir. 2003) (suggesting redaction as a curative measure when trial witnesses do not make reference to an alias).

In addition, Defendant Price moved to strike the words "among others" and "among other things" that are contained in paragraphs 10 and 93 of the superseding indictment, contending that inclusion of these words was unduly prejudicial because it would allow a jury to infer that Price is accused of crimes not charged in this case. Similarly, Hayes has moved to strike use of the words "among others" as set forth in paragraphs 10 and 98 of the superseding indictment, arguing that the words are irrelevant and prejudicial. The Court does not agree that the inclusion of this language is unduly prejudicial and will therefore not order it stricken from the indictment.

For all of the foregoing reasons, the motions to strike use of Defendants alleged aliases and other surplusage will be denied.

D. Derick Price's Motion to Dismiss Count 31

Defendant Price has moved to dismiss Count 31 of the superseding indictment, which charges him with conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956. (Doc. No. 452.) The operative provisions of the money laundering statute that Price is charged with violating are 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956(a)(1)(i) and (a)(1)(B)(i), which were charged in the indictment as follows:

Knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represented the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, (1) to conduct and attempt to conduct a financial transaction with the intent to promote the carrying on of a specified unlawful activity, that is, transporting individuals in interstate commerce with the intent that such individuals engage in prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 1956(a)(1)(i); and (2) knowing that the transaction was designed in whole or in part to conceal and disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership and the control of the proceeds of a specified and unlawful activity, that is, transporting ...

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