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United States v. Ferrer

November 12, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ESPERANZA FERRER



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Defendant Esperanza Ferrer's motion for severance joined by her co-defendant Ramon Ferrer. Esperanza argues that Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires that the court sever her trial from her husband Ramon's trial because a joint trial would prejudice her. The motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A superseding indictment returned by a Grand Jury on July 30, 2008 charged that Esperanza and four co-defendants, including Ramon, did intentionally and knowingly combine, conspire and confederate and agree with each other and with others both known and unknown to the Grand Jury to manufacture, distribute and possess with the intent to manufacture and distribute 500 grams and more of methamphetamine . . . and did attempt to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to manufacture and distribute 500 grams and more of methamphetamine . . . .

(Doc. 93.)

The government has alleged that Esperanza played the following role in the alleged conspiracy.*fn1 On April 29, 2008, Esperanza's husband Ramon engaged in negotiations in Ellijay, Georgia for the delivery of a significant quantity of methamphetamine in Pennsylvania. (Doc. 144 at 2.) On May 8, 2008, Esperanza and Ramon traveled to Pennsylvania in a car registered to Esperanza. (Id.) While in Pennsylvania, Esperanza and Ramon visited various truck stops. (Id.) Two days later, Esperanza and Ramon met with a confidential informant (the "CI") in a diner in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (Id.) During this meeting, Esperanza, Ramon, and the CI discussed the drug transaction. (Id.) Following the meeting, the CI provided Esperanza and Ramon a vehicle. (Id.) Upon receipt of the car, Ramon-in the presence of Esperanza- carried out extensive, lengthy, and thorough examinations of the trunk, engine, and underbody of the car at two separate times in different locations. (Id.) On May 15, 2008, Drug Enforcement Agency agents captured video surveillance of Esperanza transferring a bag containing six pounds of suspected methamphetamine from the car provided by the CI to her car. (Id.) On May 17, 2008, Esperanza, Ramon, and three other individuals were arrested and 23 pounds of a substance that field tested positive for methamphetamine was seized. (Id.) Subsequent chemical analysis revealed that the substance was not methamphetamine. (Id.)

A criminal complaint was filed against Esperanza on May 19, 2008 (Doc. 11), and a Grand Jury returned an indictment on May 21, 2008 (Doc. 41). On July 30, 2008, a Grand Jury returned a superseding indictment charging Esperanza and her co-defendants as described above. (Doc. 93.) On October 3, 2008, Esperanza filed a motion for severance with a supporting brief. (Docs. 137, 138.) The government filed a brief in opposition on October 14, 2008. (Doc. 144.) Esperanza opted not to file a reply brief. Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permits a court to sever defendants' trials "[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." Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a). When defendants have been properly joined under Rule 8(b), "a district court should grant 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 prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or innocence." Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 539 (1993); United States v. Voigt, 89 F.3d 1050, 1094 (3d Cir. 1996). In evaluating the risk of prejudice, courts must consider "the facts in each case." Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539. "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." Id. (citations omitted).

Federal courts have "a preference for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together," Voigt, 89 F.3d at 1094, and Rule 8(b) encourages charging multiple defendants in the same indictment or information "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." Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(b). This preference is especially strong in conspiracy cases because "joint trials of defendants charged under a single conspiracy aid the finder of fact in determining the full extent of the conspiracy." Voigt, 89 F.3d at 1094 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Provenzano, 688 F.2d 194, 199 (3d Cir. 1982). This preference arises because joint trials "promote efficiency in the courts and serve the interests of justice by preventing 'the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts,' " Voigt, 89 F.3d at 1094 (quoting Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 537). Nonetheless, as the Third Circuit has noted:

[N]o defendant should ever be deprived of a fair trial because it is easier or more economical for the government to try several defendants in one trial rather than in protracted multiple trials. The goal of the judicial process is not to decide cases as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

United States v. Boscia, 573 F.2d 827, 833 (3d Cir. 1978).

Ultimately, however, "[d]efendants seeking a severance bear a 'heavy burden' and must demonstrate not only that the court would abuse its discretion if it denied severance, but also that the denial of severance would lead to a clear and substantial prejudice resulting in a manifestly unfair trial." United States v. Lore, 430 F.3d 190, 205 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Zafiro, 506 F.3d at 539) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Urban, 404 F.3d 754, 775 (3d Cir. 2005). "Mere allegations of prejudice are not enough," United States v. Reicherter, 647 F.2d 397, 400 (3d ...


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