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United States of America v. William Tripp

March 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.


Presently before the Court is Defendant William Tripp's Motion for Severance. (ECF No. 103.) For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be denied.


Defendant William Tripp is charged, along with three Co-defendants, Jonathan Scott, George Miller and Jurea Wilson, in a Second Superseding Indictment that was returned on February 28, 2012. (Second Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 100.) Defendant is charged in four of the sixteen counts contained in the Second Superseding Indictment. Specifically, Defendant is charged with receiving, possessing, concealing, storing, bartering or selling stolen firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(j) (Count Eleven); possessing a machine gun in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(o) (Count Twelve); possessing firearms not registered, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5845(a), 5861(d), and 5871 (Count Thirteen); and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count Sixteen).*fn2 The Second Superseding Indictment also charges the three Co-defendants with conspiracy to receive, possess, conceal, store and sell or dispose of stolen firearms and other crimes. (Second Superseding Indictment 5.) The alleged conspiracy centers around the theft of machine guns, firearms and ammunition from a truck belonging to a federal firearms licensee on or about December 21, 2008, and the subsequent storage and sale of the contraband. (Id. at 5-7.) Defendant is not charged in the conspiracy count, and had no part in the theft or storage of the contraband. However, one of the overt acts listed in the conspiracy count alleges that Co-defendant Miller arranged the sale of two stolen machine guns to Defendant, and that Defendant later transferred those firearms to Leon Booker. (Id. at 7.)*fn3 The separate counts against Defendant relate to this overt act.

Defendant filed the instant Motion on March 5, 2012 (Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 103), along with an accompanying memorandum of law (Def.'s Br., ECF No. 103). The Government filed its Response on March 16, 2012. (Gov't's Resp., ECF No. 108.)


Defendants may be joined in a single indictment "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); see also United States v. Irizarry, 341 F.3d 273, 287-88 (3d Cir. 2003). The Supreme Court has stated that there is a strong preference that defendants who have been indicted together should be tried jointly for reasons of efficiency and the avoidance of inconsistent verdicts. Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 537 (1993).

When two or more defendants are charged together in the same indictment, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(a) permits a court to sever the defendants' trials if "the joinder of offenses or defendants in an indictment . . . appears to prejudice a defendant or the government." Defendants seeking to sever 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 U.S. at 539) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Mere allegations of prejudice are not enough." United States v. Reicherter, 647 F.2d 397, 400 (3d Cir. 1981). Severance should be granted 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." United States v. Voigt, 89 F.3d 1050, 1094 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539). 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).


Defendant argues that he should be tried separately from Co-defendants because there is a "serious risk of prejudice" as a result of the complexity of the case, his lack of involvement in the conspiracy, and the differences in alleged culpability among all of the Defendants. (Def.'s Br. 1.)The Government responds that Defendant has failed to show prejudice by any "spill over" effect caused by the evidence that will be presented against Co-defendants. The Government also argues that a jury will not have difficulty compartmentalizing Defendant's limited role in the charges alleged, despite Defendant not being charged in the conspiracy.

We are satisfied that Defendant has not made a showing of clear and substantial prejudice to warrant a severance and separate trial with respect to the counts alleged against him. The case is not so complex as to prejudice Defendant. The factual allegations in the Second Superseding Indictment span a five-month period, and predominantly describe the theft, storage and subsequent arrangements for the sale of firearms by Co-defendants. Defendant's involvement is limited to a single purchase and subsequent sale of firearms allegedly stolen by Co-defendant Scott. Although Defendant is not named in the conspiracy count, his criminal conduct is alleged as part of the overt acts alleged in support of the conspiracy. Thus, all Defendants are alleged to have participated in the "same series of acts or transactions" which constitute the offenses charged in the Second Superseding Indictment. Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(b). Moreover, the evidence that the Government will need to present to support the charges against Defendant will also be used to establish the conspiracy. Accordingly, "the interests of judicial economy and conservation of resources outweigh any possible prejudice against" Defendant. United States v. Young, No. 10-427-1, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16467, at *7-8 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 18, 2011) (denying motion to sever where defendant was named in only one of the two conspiracy counts).

Furthermore, Defendant's argument that he will be prejudiced by the "overwhelming majority of evidence" against Co-defendants is without merit. (Def.'s Mot. ¶ 3.) The Third Circuit has made clear that "a defendant is not entitled to a severance merely because evidence against a co-defendant is more damaging than the evidence against the moving party." Lore, 430 F.3d at 205 (quoting United States v. Somers, 496 F.2d 723, 730 (3d Cir. 1974)). Rather, "the relevant inquiry is 'whether the jury will be able to compartmentalize the evidence as it relates to separate defendants in view of its volume and limited admissibility.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Davis, 397 F.3d 173, 182 (3d Cir. 2005)). Here, since Defendant is not even named in the conspiracy count, a jury will be able to compartmentalize any evidence as it relates specifically to Defendant. The charges against Defendant relate to a single purchase and subsequent sale of firearms. It is highly unlikely that a jury will confuse the evidence presented against Defendant since the evidence relates to this one event, and the counts with which Defendant is charged do not name any of the Co-defendants. We will instruct the jury to consider each count separately and not to be influenced by the evidence presented against Co-defendants in its deliberations concerning the charges against Defendant. See Lore, 430 F.3d at 205-06 (noting that a jury is presumed to follow the district court's instructions and consider evidence separately against each defendant and with respect to each offense).

Defendant's counsel also argues that despite repeated continuance requests by Co-defendants, he is available for trial at various times prior to the anticipated trial date. On December 15, 2011, Co-defendant Scott requested that the trial be continued. (ECF No. 86.) Again, on March 15, 2012, Scott requested a continuance. (ECF No. 106). Co-defendants Wilson and Miller joined in Scott's March 15, 2012 request for a continuance. However, severance is not required to preserve Defendant's right to a speedy trial under the Speedy Trial Act. See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(6) (excluding from the calculation of time within which the trial must commence "[a] reasonable period of delay when the defendant is joined for trial with a co-defendant as to whom the time for trial has not run and no motion for severance has been granted").*fn4 Since the Co-defendants have sought a continuance, the time within which a trial must commence under the Speedy Trial Act has not expired as to them. Consequently, the time ...

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