United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
R. HORNAK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.) 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.)
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
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
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).
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
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)).
the foregoing legal standards in mind, the Court will address
each of the requests for severance in turn.
The Government's Request for Severance of No.
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.