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U.S. v. MATTHEWS

December 31, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
V.
LAVIN MATTHEWS AKA "L" CHRISTOPHER MCMILLIAN AKA LLOYD TEBIAH SHELAH TUCKER AKA BUDDHA DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. Mcavoy, District Judge

 
MEMORANDUM DECISION & ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

Defendants were indicted on a Superseding Indictment (the "Indictment") filed on September 25, 2002. The Indictment alleges that all Defendants committed the following violations of law: (1) conspired to possess with the intent to distribute more than fifty grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 and 846 (Count One); (2) murder while engaging in a narcotics conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848 (Count Two); (3) participation in a racketeering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C § 1962(d) (Count Three); (4) the commission of a violent crime (the murder of Carlton Rose) in aid of racketeering activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1) (Count Four); and (5) the felony murder of Carlton Rose during the commission of a robbery also in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1) (Count Five). The Indictment further alleges that: (6) Defendant Matthews distributed five or more grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (Count Six); (7) Defendant Matthews carried and used firearms during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Seven); (8) Defendant Matthews possessed firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Eight); (9) Defendant McMillian carried and used firearms during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Nine); (10) Defendant McMillian possessed firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Ten); (11) Defendant Tucker carried and used firearms during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Eleven); (12) Defendant Tucker possessed firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) (Count Twelve); (13) Defendant Matthews possessed firearms after having previously been convicted of felony offenses in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (Count Thirteen); (14) Defendant McMillian possessed firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) after having previously been convicted of felony offenses (Count Fourteen); and (15) Defendant Tucker possessed firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) after having previously been convicted of a felony.

The Indictment further alleges that Defendants are subject to the enhanced penalties of 18 U.S.C. § 521 with respect to Counts One, Two, Three, Four, Five and Six because the offenses alleged in those Counts were committed by participants of a criminal street gang, the Bloods. The Indictment also contains a "Notice of Special Findings" with respect to Counts Two, Four and Five that allege various statutory aggravating factors contained in 21 U.S.C. § 848(n) and 18 U.S.C. § 3591(c) applicable to crimes that carry a possible death sentence.*fn1

Defendants now move for a declaration that the death penalty provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 848 and 18 U.S.C. § 3591 are unconstitutional.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Whether the Death Penalty Statutes' Evidentiary Rules Violate the Fifth and Sixth Amendments

Defendants first argue that, in accordance with the decision in United States v. Fell, 217 F. Supp.2d 469, (D.Vt. 2002), the aggravating factors necessary to sustain a death sentence are functional equivalents of the offense that must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt and that, given the heightened safeguards applicable to death penalty cases, the "relaxed" evidentiary standards contained in the death penalty statutes violate the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the Sixth Amendment's right of confrontation.

The Death Penalty Statutes (21 U.S.C. § 848 and 18 U.S.C. § 3591, et. seq.) contain virtually identical procedures. First, the government must provide the defendant with notice stating that it intends to seek a death sentence and setting forth the aggravating factors that the government proposes to prove as justifying a death sentence. 21 U.S.C. § 848; see also 18 U.S.C. § 3593(a). Next, a jury determines whether the defendant is guilty of the capital offense. See, e.g., Fell, 217 F. Supp.2d at 477; see also 21 U.S.C. § 848(i); 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a); 3593(b). This is often referred to as the "guilt phase" of a death penalty trial. If the defendant is convicted of a death eligible offense, the defendant is entitled to "a separate sentencing hearing to determine the punishment to be imposed." 21 U.S.C. § 848(i); 18 U.S.C. § 3593(b). This separate hearing is referred to as the sentencing or penalty phase.

At the sentencing phase, the jury first considers whether the government has sustained its burden of proving the necessary aggravating factor or factors beyond a reasonable doubt. 21 U.S.C. § 848(k); 18 U.S.C. § 3593(d). Findings with respect to aggravating factors must be unanimous. Id. If the jury does not find that the government sustained its burden of demonstrating the necessary aggravating factor(s), the death penalty may not be imposed. 21 U.S.C. § 848(k); 18 U.S.C. § 3593(d). If the jury finds that the government has sustained its burden in this regard, the jury must next "consider whether the aggravating factors found to exist sufficiently outweigh any mitigating factor or factors found to exist, or in the absence of mitigating factors, whether the aggravating factors themselves are sufficient to justify a sentence of death." 21 U.S.C. § 848(k); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3593(e). Unlike findings concerning aggravating factors, mitigating factors may be found by one or more of the members of the jury by a preponderance of the evidence. 21 U.S.C. § 848(j),(k); 18 U.S.C. § 3593(c),(d). "Based upon this consideration, the jury by unanimous vote . . . shall recommend whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, to life imprisonment without possibility of release or some other lesser sentence." 18 U.S.C. § 3593(e); see also 21 U.S.C. § 848(k).

The Death Penalty Statutes set forth the evidentiary standards governing the penalty phase. The statutes provide that

Any . . . information relevant to such mitigating or aggravating factors may be presented by either the Government or the defendant, regardless of its admissibility under the rules governing admission of evidence at criminal trials, except that information may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by ...

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