UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
February 24, 1982
UNITED STATES of America
Richard MASTRANGELO, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This is an application by the Government, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence ("F.R.E.") 804(b)(5) and Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 12 and 57(b), for a pretrial ruling that the Grand Jury testimony and exhibits of James Bennett will be admissible at the trial of the defendant. The defendant is charged with conspiracy, with importation of and possession with intent to distribute over 23 tons of marijuana and almost half a million methaqualone tablets and with obstruction of Justice. The only evidence linking the defendant to the drug counts is his purchase of four trucks, seized by the Federal agents, which were loaded with the drugs. James Bennett's Grand Jury testimony is necessary to identify the defendant as the purchaser of the trucks.
On April 27, 1981, a trial on the drug charges
against Mastrangelo and a co-conspirator, Joseph Dazzo, commenced before Chief Judge Weinstein. Two days later, James Bennett, the only witness who could link Mastrangelo to the drugs, was murdered just hours before he was scheduled to testify. Chief Judge Weinstein declared a mistrial as to Mastrangelo.
Mastrangelo moved for dismissal of the indictment on double jeopardy grounds, but Chief Judge Weinstein denied the motion. He found that "by a preponderance of the evidence" Mastrangelo either ordered the killing of Bennett, or knew about it and acquiesced. The Second Circuit affirmed Judge Weinstein's decision on October 28, 1981.
United States v. Mastrangelo, 662 F.2d 946 (2d Cir. 1981). The second jury trial is scheduled to begin on February 22, 1982.
The Government argues that Bennett's Grand Jury testimony will be admissible under F.R.E. 804(b)(5).
It also claims that its admission will not violate the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment because the testimony is necessary to the Government's case and because it is imbued with overwhelming circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness. The defendant counters that its admission is flatly prohibited by the Confrontation Clause, as construed in United States v. Fiore, 443 F.2d 112 (2d Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 410 U.S. 984, 93 S. Ct. 1510, 36 L. Ed. 2d 181 (1973).
I begin by noting that "(t)he confrontation clause is not merely the equivalent of the hearsay rules." United States v. Wright, 588 F.2d 31, 37 (2d Cir. 1978); see Dutton v. Evans, 400 U.S. 74, 81-82, 91 S. Ct. 210, 215-216, 27 L. Ed. 2d 213 (1970). Nevertheless, recognizing the "truism that "hearsay rules and the Confrontation Clause are generally designed to protect similar values' ... and "stem from the same roots,' " the Supreme Court has sanctioned the use of hearsay in spite of the Confrontation Clause where certain requirements are met. Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 66, 100 S. Ct. 2531, 2539, 65 L. Ed. 2d 597 (1980), quoting, California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 155, 90 S. Ct. 1930, 1933, 26 L. Ed. 2d 489 (1977); Dutton v. Evans, 400 U.S. 74, 86, 91 S. Ct. 210, 218, 27 L. Ed. 2d 213 (1970). The rules are summarized succinctly in Ohio v. Roberts:
In sum, when a hearsay declarant is not present for cross-examination at trial, the Confrontation Clause normally requires a showing that he is unavailable. Even then, his statement is admissible only if it bears adequate "indicia of reliability.' Reliability can be inferred without more in a case where the evidence falls within a firmly rooted hearsay exception. In other cases, the evidence must be excluded, at least absent a showing of particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.
448 U.S. at 66, 100 S. Ct. at 2539.
In this case, the declarant, James Bennett, is obviously unavailable. Indeed, although this is not dispositive, there is a finding by the prior trial judge that the defendant was implicated in the murder of Bennett, a finding characterized by the Second Circuit as "understandable." United States v. Mastrangelo, 662 F.2d 946, at 950 (2d Cir. 1981). Thus, the only question remaining is whether the Government has satisfied the requirement of demonstrating "indicia of reliability" by a "showing of particularized guarantees of trustworthiness."
I find that it has.
The Government has demonstrated that Bennett had no motive to testify falsely. He was merely a witness. He was not under investigation as a participant in the crime (see Government's Pretrial Memorandum, Exhibit D). He had not been granted immunity (see Government's Pretrial Memorandum at 15). He testified under penalty of perjury. He had first-hand knowledge of the events to which he testified. He reaffirmed his statements several times to assistant United States Attorneys and to DEA agents, both before and after he testified. At no point did he ever recant his story. See Government's Pretrial Memorandum, Exhibits C, D and E. In addition, there are business records which tend to corroborate Bennett's testimony, as well as a tape recording of a conversation between Mastrangelo and Bennett that strongly corroborates Bennett's Grand Jury testimony. There is independent authentication of the voice on the tape as that of Mastrangelo.
Taken together, these factors clearly provide the "particularized guarantees of trustworthiness" required by the Supreme Court. I hold, therefore, that the introduction of Bennett's Grand Jury testimony will not violate the Sixth Amendment.
Indeed, this result has been reached by every other circuit faced with this precise problem. See United States v. Thevis, 665 F.2d 616 (5th Cir. 1982); United States v. West, 574 F.2d 1131 (4th Cir. 1978). See also United States v. Balano, 618 F.2d 624 (10th Cir. 1979); United States v. Garner, 574 F.2d 1141 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 936, 99 S. Ct. 333, 58 L. Ed. 2d 333 (1978); United States v. Carlson, 547 F.2d 1346 (8th Cir. 1976). See generally Annotation, Admissibility of Testimony Before Grand Jury of Unavailable Witness Under Rule 804(b)(5), 50 A.L.R. 848 (1980).
Turning from the constitutional to the evidentiary issues, I believe that the requirement of F.R.E. 804(b)(5) that a statement have "circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness" has also been satisfied. I find in addition that the other requirements of F.R.E. 804(b)(5) have also been met. The materiality and relevance of the statements identifying Mastrangelo cannot be disputed. The grand jury testimony is offered to link Mastrangelo, as the purchaser of the trucks in which the drugs were found, to the crimes charged in the indictment. See also F.R.E. 401. The testimony is more probative on the issue whether Mastrangelo was the purchaser of the trucks involved than any other evidence. Finally, there is no doubt in my mind that the interest of justice will be best served by introduction of Bennett's Grand Jury testimony. See United States v. West, 574 F.2d 1131 (4th Cir. 1978).
For all of the above reasons, the Government's application is granted.