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United States v. Montgomery

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 31, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
PRICE MONTGOMERY JAMES PERRIN CHARLES COOK GLENN THOMAS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MARK R. HORNAK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On March 21, 2017, this Court granted the United States' Motions to Consolidate three criminal cases at docket numbers 14-cr-205, 16-cr-63, and 16-cr-223. (Mem. Order, ECF No. 279.[1]) The Court summarized the various charges and Defendants in each case in its prior Order and will not repeat them here except as necessary. (See Id. at 4.) Although the Court determined that the cases should then be consolidated because they arose out of the same series of acts or transactions, "the Court [did] not conclude that all [four remaining] Defendants will necessarily have a single joint trial on all charges when the case progresses to that stage." (Id. at 7.)

         The case has now progressed closer to the trial stage, and there are a number of severance matters before the Court. First, to protect Sixth Amendment rights, the United States has asked the Court to sever the charges at No. 16-cr-63, in which Defendant Montgomery is charged with soliciting the murders of federal witnesses, from the remaining charges at Nos. 14-cr-205 and 16-cr-223. (Gov't's Resp. to Def. Montgomery's Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 410, at 4.) Also before the Court are two Motions to Sever, filed by Defendant Charles Cook (ECF No. 399) and Defendant Glenn Thomas (No. 16-cr-223, ECF No. 105), each asserting that Defendant will be prejudiced if his case is tried with the other Defendants and charges.

         For the reasons that follow, the Government's request to sever the charges at No. 16-cr-63 is granted. Defendant Cook's Motion to Sever (ECF No. 399) is granted. Defendant Thomas's Motion to Sever (No. 16-cr-223, ECF No. 105) is denied.

         I. Legal Standard

         There is a preference in the federal system for joint trials of properly joined defendants. As the Supreme Court explained in Zafiro v. United States, "Joint trials 'play a vital role in the criminal justice system.' They promote efficiency and 'serve the interests of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts.'" 506 U.S. 534, 537 (1993) (quoting Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 209-10 (1987)) (internal citation omitted). Despite this preference, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14 permits a district court judge to sever defendants or charges for trial if a joint trial "appears to prejudice a defendant or the government." Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a).

         Whether to sever a charge or a defendant from a joint trial is a decision left largely to the district court judge's discretion. "Rule 14 does not require severance even if prejudice is shown; rather, it leaves the tailoring of the relief to be granted, if any, to the district court's sound discretion." Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 538-39. According to the Supreme Court:

[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 prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or innocence. . . . 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. at 539 (citing Richardson, 481 U.S. at 211). In other words, "[a] defendant requesting severance pursuant to Rule 14 bears a heavy burden of demonstrating that a denial of severance would "clear[ly] and substantial[ly] prejudice' the defendant, 'resulting in a manifestly unfair trial.' United States v. Augusta, No. 16-cr-82, 2018 WL 318562, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 8, 2018) (quoting United States v. Lore, 430 F.3d 190, 205 (3d Cir. 2005)). "Mere allegations of prejudicial joinder are insufficient to warrant severance." Id. (quoting United States v. Avila, 610 F.Supp.2d 391, 397 (M.D. Pa. 2009)).

         II. Analysis

         Bearing the foregoing legal standards in mind, the Court will address each of the requests for severance in turn.

         A. The Government's Request for Severance of No. 16-cr-63

         First, to protect Defendant Price Montgomery's Sixth Amendment rights, the United States has asked the Court to sever the charges at No. 16-cr-63, in which Defendant Montgomery is charged with soliciting the murders of two individuals he suspected would testify against him in a trial of the charges at No. 14-cr-205. During the hearing held in this matter on April 9, 2018, counsel for Defendant Montgomery (as well as counsel for all other Defendants) consented to severing the charges at No. 16-cr-63 from the charges at Nos. 14-cr-205 and 16-cr-223. (See Tr. of Proceedings on Apr. 9, 2018, ECF No. 416, at 65.) In light of this unanimous consent to severance, as well as the Court's determination that such severance is in the interests of justice, the Court grants the Government's request. The charges pending against Defendant Montgomery at No. 16-cr-63 will be tried separately from the charges against Defendant Montgomery and the other Defendants at Nos. 14-cr-205 and 16-cr-223.

         B. Defendant ...


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