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United States v. Rinaldi

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 18, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MICHAEL RINALDI, Defendant. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MICHAEL RINALDI, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         Presently before the Court are fifteen pre-trial motions filed by Defendant Michael Rinaldi.

         On August 21, 2018, a federal Grand Jury charged Defendants Michael Rinaldi, Dwayne Romail Brown, and Andrew Henry with one count of Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance, cocaine and cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. (See 3:18-cr-279, Doc. 37). That same day, the federal grand jury also returned an indictment charging Defendants Michael Rinaldi, Steven Powell, Jessica Caldwell, and George Kokenyei with Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance, marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. (See 3:18-cr-280, Doc. 1).

         The Court thus currently has two criminal actions before it wherein Michael Rinaldi is a named defendant: 3:18-cr-279 and 3:18-cr-280.

         On January 16, 2019, at the request of Defendant Rinaldi, the Court held a hearing in accordance with Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975) and United States v. Peppers, 302 F.3d 120 (3d Cir. 2002), wherein it conducted a colloquy with Defendant Rinaldi, in the presence of his CJA appointed counsel Joseph Blazosek, to determine whether Defendant Rinaldi understood the responsibilities and consequences of self-representation, was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waiving his right to counsel, and would be permitted to represent herself. Following this colloquy, the Court determined that Mr. Rinaldi had knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived the right to counsel and understood the ramifications and consequences of proceeding pro se and therefore granted Mr. Rinaldi's request to represent himself. The Court thereafter appointed Attorney Blazosek as stand-by counsel at the request of Defendant.

         Since December of 2018, Defendant Rinaldi has filed a number of pro se pretrial motions which are currently pending before this Court, including the following motions which the Court will address herein:[1]

• Motion to Dismiss the Indictment (Doc. 76)
• Motion to Dismiss "Pursuant to F.R. Crim. P. 12(B)" (Doc. 77)
• "Request for a Bill of Particulars" (Doc. 80)
• "Motion to Challenge the Authenticity and Chain of Custody of the Government's Exhibits" (Doc. 82)
• Motion to Compel Discovery (Doc. 85)
• "Request to Compel" (Doc. 89)
• "Motion for Early Disclosure of Statements Pursuant to the Jencks Act and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure" (Doc. 103)
• Motion for "Pretrial Hearing to Determine Existence of Conspiracy" (Doc. 105)
• Motion for Hearing on Admissibility of Statements of Alleged Co-Conspirators (Doc. 107)
• Motion "Pursuant to Rules 404(b) and 609 of Federal Rules of Evidence" (Doc. 109)
• Motion to "Preserve and Disclose Notes, Reports, and Evidence" (Doc. 111)
• Motion for Disclosure Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 807 (Doc. 113)
• Motion to Produce Memorializing of Government Interviews (Doc. 115)
• "Motion to Join in the Motion of Co-Defendants" (Doc. 124)
• Motion for Severance (Doc. 155)

         For the following reasons, the Court will deny each of Defendant's motions.[2]

         II. Analysis

         A. Motion to Dismiss the Indictment

         Rinaldi's first motion moves to dismiss the indictment on the basis that he "is not the Michael Rinaldi named in the indictment and that the United States District Court does not have 'in personam' jurisdiction over him." (Doc. 76, at 1; id. at 2). Rinaldi further contends that there is no case or controversy before this Court and that the United States lacks standing to bring this action against him. (Id. at 3-4). in Rinaldi's Reply brief, he clarifies his assertion that he "is not the Michael Rinaldi named in the indictment" by explaining that his "name is not MICHAEL RINALDI" and that "[a]ll capital letters denotes a corporate entity" and he "is not a corporate entity and has not entered into any agreements with the corporate United States." (Doc. 152, at 2).

         Each of Rinaldi's assertions are without merit. Similar arguments premised on a defendant's claim that he or she is a "sovereign citizen" have been repeatedly rejected by Courts. In United States v. Young, the Third Circuit rejected Defendant's argument "that the District Court 'lacked jurisdiction to hear, convict, or bring any case in this fraudulently contrived Constructive Trust Case Matter'" where Defendant "generally refer[red] to her status as a foreign sovereign immune from suit." 735 Fed.Appx. 793, 795 (3d Cir. 2018). The Circuit explained that there was "no merit to her challenge [and t]he District Court had jurisdiction to adjudicate this criminal action under 18 U.S.C. § 3231." Id. at 795-796 (citing United States v. Benabe, 654 F.3d 753, 767 (7th Cir. 2011) ("Regardless of an individual's claimed status of descent, be it as a 'sovereign citizen,' a 'secured-party creditor,' or a 'flesh-and-blood human being,' that person is not beyond the jurisdiction of the courts.")). See also, United States v. Matthews, 2011 WL183979, *2 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (in analyzing a motion brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, finding that defense counsel was not ineffective for failing to challenge the Court's jurisdiction where Petitioner asserted that he was "a citizen and inhabitant of the 'Sovereign Republic of Pennsylvania' and that [the] Court lacked jurisdiction over his criminal case."); United States v. Rendon, 354 F.3d 1320, 1326 (11th Cir. 2003) ("A federal district court has personal jurisdiction to try any defendant brought before it on a federal indictment charging a violation of federal law."). In addition, 18 U.S.C. § 547 permits each United States attorney, within his district, to "prosecute for all offenses against the United States", 18 U.S.C. § 547(1), therefore granting the United States Attorney the lawful power to bring a criminal indictment against an individual.

         In addressing arguments largely identical to those raised by Rinaldi, the Court in United States v. Ellis, undertook an extensive analysis in explaining why each of these arguments were without legal merit.

to the extent pro se defendant has requested and intends to request such services [of a paralegal and private investigator] to aid him in presenting a motion to dismiss based on this court's Article III jurisdiction to hear the case and the United States Attorney for the Western District's "standing" to conduct the prosecution, the motion must be denied because it is based on indisputably meritless legal theory. Although pro se defendant has latched on to the notion that to have standing in an Article III civil controversy, the party bring[ing] the action must have a concrete stake in the litigation and have suffered an injury-in-fact, he fails to appreciate the distinctions to be drawn between a criminal case and a civil controversy. And while the broad language appearing in some of the more recent Supreme Court opinions expounding on the limitations of Article III standing would appear at first brush to be irreconcilable with the traditional mechanics employed in conducting criminal prosecutions, dogmatically drawing a corollary conclusion that federal criminal prosecution is outside the jurisdictional reach of Article III is tantamount to the "absurd." See Edward Hartnett, The Standing of the United States: How Criminal Prosecutions Show that Standing Doctrine is Looking for Answers in all the Wrong Places, 97 Mich.L.Rev. 2239 (1999) (to reason and conclude from the current status of the Court's Article III standing doctrine that "the vast majority of federal criminal prosecutions are not 'cases' or 'controversies' and the United States lacks standing to initiate them [would, ] ... [o]f course, [amount to] an absurd result.").

2007 WL 2028908, *1 (W.D.Pa. 2007). The Ellis Court further explained that

... lest there be any question about this court's authority to exercise jurisdiction over defendant's prosecution, one need only survey the vast array of authority conceding that "the term 'cases' in Article III includes criminal prosecutions, while the term 'controversies' does not." Hartnett, The Standing of the United States: How Criminal Prosecutions Show that Standing Doctrine is Looking for Answers in all the Wrong Places, 97 Mich.L.Rev. at 2249 & n. 56 (collecting scholarly works in support). And while one can question the ramifications of this truism on the soundness of current Article III standing doctrine, that does not change the accepted principle the "[i]n criminal cases (and perhaps more generally in Article III 'cases'), the judiciary is enforcing the sovereign's law rather than umpiring a preexisting dispute [and] [t]hus, criminal prosecutions demonstrate that, at least when exercising jurisdiction over the 'cases' enumerated in Article III, nothing in Article III limits the use of the federal judicial power to enforcement of the rights of individuals or prohibits the use of the federal judicial power to enforce the majoritarian sovereign will." Id. at 2251.
Nor can the authority of the United States attorney to prosecute offenses against the laws of the United States be seriously questioned. Through the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789 Congress long ago gave officials acting under the authority of the Attorney General exclusive authority to control the resolution of all grand jury indictments charging federal crimes and permitted this authority to be exercised within each local district. See Harold J. Krent, Executive Control over Criminal Law Enforcement: Some Lessons from History, 38 AMULR 275, 293-96 (Winter, 1989). And the congressional directive to exercise this discretionary authority continues to this day and has a direct application to defendant's prosecution. See 28 U.S.C. § 547(1) ("... each United States attorney, within his district, shall-(1) prosecute for all offenses against the United States ..."); see also 28 U.S.C. § 541(a) ("The President shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a United States attorney for each judicial district.").
To suggest, as pro se defendant has implied, that the United States attorney needs an injury-in-fact or a personal stake in the outcome of the prosecution in order to exercise this core executive duty in addition to the constitutional authority granted by Article II is a proposition without any legislative, executive, or judicial support in the two-hundred and eighteen plus years that have passed since the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789. In fact, the uniform consensus is to the contrary. See Hartnett, The Standing of the United States: How Criminal Prosecutions Show that Standing Doctrine is Looking for Answers in all the Wrong Places, 97 Mich.LRev. at 2251 ("In short, if-as all concede-the United States can prosecute crimes in the federal courts, then a 'case' within the meaning of Article III must include litigation that is based on nothing more than the 'harm to the common concern for obedience to law,' and the 'abstract ... injury to the interest in seeing that the law is obeyed.'").

Id. at * 2-3. The Court thereafter reiterated the existence of a "long-standing congressional recognition of the United States attorney's constitutional obligation to prosecute offenses against the laws of the United States and the uniform scholarly acknowledgment that such Justice Department employees properly may do so pursuant to Article II's commitment to the executive branch to enforce the interest of the sovereign in seeking to vindicate the general public interest in compliance with the law." Id. at *3.

         For the afore-mentioned reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Indictment (3:18-cr-279, Doc. 76; 3:18-cr-280, Doc. 75) will be denied.

         B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)

         Rinaldi next asserts that the indictment "is insufficient and violates the constitutional mandate that all elements of an offense be included in the indictment." (Doc. 77, at 1). Specifically, Rinaldi contends in each case that the indictment "does not allege an affect on commerce" and that absent this effect on commerce, "the conduct at issue is purely local and does not constitute a crime against the United States." (Id.).

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12 provides that "[a] party may raise by pretrial motion any defense, objection, or request that the court can determine without a trial on the merits." Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(1). "Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3)(B) allows a district court to review the sufficiency of the government's pleadings to... ensur[e] that legally deficient charges do not go to a jury." United States v. Huet, 665 F.3d 588, 595 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Bergrin, 650 F.3d 257, 268 (3d Cir. 2011)). "However, the scope of a district court's review at the Rule 12 stage is limited ... a district court must accept as true the factual allegations set forth in the indictment." Id. (internal citations omitted). At this stage, "an indictment [is] sufficient so long as it '(1) contains the elements of the offense intended to be charged, (2) sufficiently apprises the defendant of what he must be prepared to meet, and (3) allows the defendant to show with accuracy to what extent he may plead a former acquittal or conviction in the event of a subsequent prosecution.'" United States v. Kemp, 500 F.3d 257, 280 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Vitillo, 490 F.3d 314 (3d Cir. 2007)).

         "Usually, a recitation of the statutory language satisfies the first requirement, so long as there is sufficient factual orientation to permit a defendant to prepare his defense and invoke double jeopardy. And typically, a factual orientation that includes a specification of the time period of the alleged offense is sufficient for the second and third requirements. In short, detailed allegations are unnecessary." United States v. Stock, 728 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         In the Third Circuit, a defendant may contest the sufficiency of an indictment on the basis that it fails to state an offense in two ways. Stock, 728 F.3d at 292. "First, a defendant may contend that an indictment is insufficient on the basis that it does not satisfy the first requirement in that it 'fails to charge an essential element of the crime.'" Id. (citing Huet, 665 F.3d at 595). Second, a defendant may argue that "the specific facts alleged ... fall beyond the scope of the relevant criminal statute, as a matter of statutory interpretation." Id.

         Rinaldi's arguments challenge the indictments under the first method. However, they are without merit as the indictments adequately set forth the elements of the offenses charged under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. Rinaldi's motion is premised on an assertion that "effect on commerce" is a "critical jurisdictional element" and that absent this element, "the conduct at issue is purely local and does not constitute a crime against the United States." (Doc. 77, at 1; id. at 2). As the indictments in 3:18-cr-279 and 3:18-cr-280 do not specifically state that the crime charged against Rinaldi or his co-defendants under §§ 841 and 846 affected interstate commerce, Rinaldi contends the Indictments must be dismissed.

         To establish a violation under § 846, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt (1) That two or more persons agreed to distribute/possess with the intent to distribute/manufacture/possess a controlled substance; (2) That the defendant was a party to or member of that agreement; and (3) That the defendant joined the agreement or conspiracy knowing of its objective(s) to distribute/possess with the intent to distribute/ manufacture/possess a controlled substance and intending to join together with at least one other alleged conspirator to achieve that/those objective(s); that is, that the defendant and at least one other alleged conspirator shared a unity of purpose and the intent to achieve that/those objective(s). Third Circuit Model Criminal Jury Instruction 6.21.846B. In addition, under § 841, the Government must prove (1) That the defendant possessed a mixture or substance containing a controlled substance; (2) That the defendant possessed the controlled substance knowingly or intentionally; (3) That the defendant intended to manufacture/distribute the controlled substance; and (4): That the controlled substance was the substance alleged by the Government. Id. at 6.21.841 A. There is no element in either statute or the relevant case law requiring proof of an effect on interstate commerce.

         Courts have repeatedly rejected the suggestion that an effect on interstate commerce is a necessary element of a crime under §§ 841 and 846 which must be set forth in an indictment. Preliminarily, Courts have held that the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 does not violate the Commerce Clause, even where the alleged activity only occurs intrastate. As explained by the Second Circuit, "[b]ecause narcotics trafficking represents a type of activity that Congress reasonably found substantially affected interstate commerce, the actual effect that each drug conspiracy has on interstate commerce is constitutionally irrelevant." United States v. Genao, 79 F.3d 1333, 1336 (2d Cir. 1996). In Genao, the Court explained that the "Supreme Court has... expressly held that Congress may regulate activity that occurs wholly within a particular state if the activity has a sufficient nexus to interstate commerce." Id. at 1335 (citing Fry v. United States, 421 U.S. 542, 547, 95 S.Ct. 1792, 1795, 44 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975); Perez v. United States, 402 U.S. 146, 156-157, 91 S.Ct. 1357, 1362-1363, 28 L.Ed.2d 686 (1971); Houston, E. & W. Texas Ry. Co. v. United States, 234 U.S. 342, 34 S.Ct. 833, 58 L.Ed. 1341 (1914)). See also, United States v. Montes-Zarate, 552 F.2d 1330, 1331 (9th Cir. 1977) ("It is unclear whether the appellant is challenging the constitutionality of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), or whether the appellant is contending that proof of an interstate nexus is required in order to establish jurisdiction of the subject matter. In either event, the contention fails. We agree with the other circuits that have considered the problem that the statute is constitutional and that no proof of interstate nexus is required in order to establish jurisdiction."); United States v. Peterson, 194 Fed.Appx. 786, 788 (11th Cir. 2006) ("[Defendant] contends that Congress' power to enact criminal laws pursuant to the Commerce Clause does not reach his conduct because his crime was a local street-corner sale that did not directly utilize the instrumentalities or channels of interstate commerce. However, the Controlled Substances Act does not leave to the courts the task of determining whether a particular drug sale affects interstate commerce."); United States v. Leshuk, 65 F.3d 1105, 1111-1112 (4th Cir. 1995); United States v. Smith, 2006 WL 3544715, *3-4 (M.D. Pa. 2006). Courts that have thus specifically addressed whether an effect on interstate commerce must be set forth as an element in the indictment have rejected this argument. See e.g. United States v. Orr, 136 Fed.Appx. 632, 637 (5th Cir. 2005) ("According to [the defendant], the district court lacked jurisdiction because the Government did not establish a nexus between the offense and interstate commerce. Congress' regulation of controlled substance offenses under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846 is permissible under the Commerce Clause and showing an interstate commerce nexus is not required.")(citing United States v. Lopez, 459 F.2d 949, 953 (5th Cir.), cert, denied, 409 U.S. 878, 93 S.Ct. 130, 34 L.Ed.2d 131 (1972)).

         For these reasons, Defendant's motions to dismiss the indictments pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b) (3:18-cr-279, Doc. 77; 3:18-cr-280, Doc. 76) will be denied.

         C. Request for a Bill of Particulars

         Rinaldi further requests that the Court "direct the government to provide a bill of particulars" as the indictments purportedly do "not provide him with enough information for him to properly prepare a defense to the charges." (Doc. 80, at 1). Rinaldi asserts that the Government has provided "limited discovery", but that this discovery for both criminal cases was provided together, thereby preventing him from knowing "which evidence is pertinent to which indictment." (Id. at 1-2). Although Rinaldi requests the Government provide him with a Bill of Particulars, in the alternative, he requests that "the discovery be separated into two separate packages or for the government to acknowledge that their position is that the same discovery is applicable to both cases." [Id. at 2).

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 7 provides in relevant part that "[t]he indictment or information must be a plain, concise, and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged." Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). The rule further provides that "[t]he court may direct the government to file a bill of particulars. The defendant may move for a bill of particulars before or within 14 days after arraignment or at a later time if the court permits." Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(f). "The purpose of the bill of particulars is to inform the defendant of the nature of the charges brought against him to adequately prepare his defense...." United States v. Addonizio, 451 F.2d 49, 63-64 (3d Cir. 1971). "A bill of particulars should fulfill this function 'when the indictment itself is too vague and indefinite for such purposes.'" Id. at 64 (quoting United States v. Haskins, 345 F.2d 111, 114 (6th Cir. 1965)). However, a bill of particulars is not designed to inquire into the legal or evidentiary support proffered by the Government with regard to whether a defendant committed a specific criminal act. See United States v. Leonelli, 428 F.Supp. 880 (S.D.N.Y. 1977). "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).

         "An indictment is generally deemed sufficient if it: (1) contains the elements of the offense intended to be charged, (2) sufficiently apprises the defendant of what he must be prepared to meet, and (3) allows the defendant to show with accuracy to what extent he may plead a former acquittal or conviction in the event of a subsequent prosecution. An indictment must allege more than just the essential elements of the offense." Vitillo, 490 F.3d at 321 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         In addition, "[t]he Third Circuit has... 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. 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. Hayes, 2007 WL 3085998, *1 (M.D.Pa. 2007) (citing United States v. Urban, 404 F.3d 754, 772 (3d Cir. 2004); United States v. Kenny, 462 F.2d 1205, 1212 (3d Cir. 1972)).

         "[T]he granting of a bill of particulars remains a discretionary matter with the trial court." Addonizio, 451 F.2d at 64. "The denial of a motion for a bill of particulars does not amount to an abuse of discretion unless the deprivation of the information sought leads to the defendant's inability to adequately prepare his case, to avoid surprise at trial, or to avoid the later risk of double jeopardy." Id.

         Rinaldi's arguments are unavailing where the indictments in both criminal cases adequately describe the nature of the alleged conspiracies, the specific statutes allegedly violated, the identity of his co-defendants, the identity of the controlled substances at issue, the quantity of the controlled substance involved in the conspiracy (in 3:18-cr-279), and the specific time frame wherein these conspiracies allegedly occurred.

         Notably, Rinaldi does not assert in his motion why either indictment is insufficient, but rather rests his argument exclusively on the issue of discovery that has, or has not, been provided to him. This argument is inappropriate in a motion whose purpose is directed at determining whether one or both of the indictments themselves are too vague and indefinite to inform Rinaldi of the nature of the charges brought against him such that he may adequately prepare his defense. In addition, the Government asserts that it "has provided extensive discovery to the defendant, and assisted in accommodating his ability to review the materials while incarcerated" and "has turned over all intercepted communications from the investigations as well as affidavits and reports." (Doc. 150, at 14). In response to a separate motion filed by Rinaldi, the Government has also represented that it "will comply with the rules and laws governing discovery, and will produce all materials required, including that which is required under Brady, Giglio, the Jencks Act, and Rule 16" and that "Defendant has already been provided with extensive discovery, and if and when more discoverable evidence becomes available, it will be provided in a timely manner." (Id. at 59).

         Thus, as demonstrated by the record, Defendant has been apprised of the charges against him and knows the nature of the offenses that were allegedly committed within a specific time frame. Rinaldi has not established the specific need for a bill of particulars that the law requires for its issuance. This is particularly the case in light of the Government's stated compliance with the discovery mandates of Brady and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure. 16. Finally, it is both impractical and unnecessary for the Government separate the discovery "into two separate packages or for the government to acknowledge that their position is that the same discovery is applicable to both cases" (Doc. 80, at 2) where the Government has properly noted that "[m]uch of the evidence produced may prove relevant to both cases" (Doc. 150, at 14). Defendant's motions for a bill of particulars (3:18-cr-279, Doc. 80; 3:18-cr-280, Doc. 79) will therefore be denied.

         D. Motion to Challenge the Authenticity and Chain of Custody of the ...


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