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United States v. Stuckey

October 10, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
SEAN STUCKEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Defendant Sean Stuckey made post-trial motions 1) to acquit pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, or 2) for a new trial, pursuant to Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. For the reasons that follow, the motions are denied.

A. Background

1.The Indictment

On April 18, 2006, Defendant, in a one count indictment, was charged with possessing a firearm and ammunition on or about March 20, 2006, after having been convicted in a court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Sections 922(g)(1) and 924(e).

2. The Proceedings before Judge Jones

This case was originally assigned to Judge Jones. Although Defendant elected to proceed pro se, Judge Jones appointed Erika Edwards, Esq., to act as standby counsel. (Tr. 3/30/07 at 2.) Before Judge Jones, Defendant challenged the Court's jurisdiction over him, on various grounds, including the fact that he was "not the all-capital fictitious person" as charged in the caption and body of the indictment,*fn1 that he had "no contract with this venue," and that his trial was "an act of involuntary slavery." (Tr. 5/11/07 at 3.) Judge Jones denied Defendant's motion and proceeded to trial. (Id. at 3-4.)

Before voir dire on June 18, 2007, Judge Jones warned Defendant, "If you stand up and begin to make the kind of statements that you have been making about the jurisdictional arguments, I will have to adjourn, send the jury out, and possibly . . . send you out and you will watch the trial in some other way, but it is going on." (Tr. 6/18/07 at 5.)

Despite this warning, Defendant interrupted the voir dire proceedings. (Id. at 33-34.) Judge Jones dismissed the panel for a break and, once again, asked Defendant that he not interrupt the proceedings. (Id. at 34.) Upon his steadfast refusal, she removed him from the courtroom (id. at 40), revoked his pro se status (id. at 43-44), and appointed standby counsel to represent him (id. at 44). Defense counsel then alerted the Court that she would need time to prepare an adequate defense. (Id. at 52.) Judge Jones dismissed the jury panel and adjourned the trial until July 23, 2007 to give defense counsel time to prepare.

3. Pretrial Proceedings before this Court

On or around July 10, 2007, the matter was transferred to this Court for trial on July 23, 2007. At a pretrial conference on July 11, 2007, Defendant was duly warned by this Court that, should he disrupt the proceedings, no mistrial would be ordered, and he would be removed from the courtroom: "I [will] do everything I can to give this man a fair trial, but if he prejudices himself after all these warnings, he prejudices himself. That's his decision. We're not going to have any mistrials . . . absent some misbehavior by the government or its witnesses." (Tr. 7/11/07 at 25.)

At the voir dire proceeding on July 23, 2007, Defendant again interrupted the proceedings, interjecting during the Court's questions to the jury:

THE DEFENDANT: I am not Sean Stuckey. You know I am not the defendant that's being charged with this. I never voluntarily contracted a surety for this trading that's been charged. So I don't know why you created this illusion from the beginning in this court. (Trial Tr. at 25.*fn2 ) In light of Defendant's statements, the Court conferred with counsel for both sides and, with their approval, posed a final question to the prospective jurors at the conclusion of voir dire:

THE COURT: One further question. You have heard the comments of the defendant here in court. The defendant's statements before you are legal arguments which have been considered by the court and can be the subject of an appeal to a higher court. They are not evidence and are not to be considered by the jurors. You are to decide this case solely on the basis of the evidence presented here in court and whatever exhibits are admitted in evidence.

Is there any juror among you who believes that they will be unable to hear and decide this case fairly and impartially based solely on the evidence presented here in court. (Id. at 120-22.) No juror indicated that he or she would be unable to be impartial.

At the outset of the Government's opening statement, Defendant interrupted the proceedings:

THE DEFENDANT: Mr. Patterson, excuse me. Excuse me, Mr. Judge Patterson. Did you explain -- do you intend on explaining to the jury exactly my point in the all capital letter defendant, so that they won't be under the impression that I was talking about something frivolous or inaccurate?

(Id. at 137.) Because Defendant did not cease interrupting, the Government could not proceed with its opening statement. (Id. at 140-52.)

At that point, the jurors were excused for a recess, and Defendant was removed from the courtroom to watch the remainder of the proceedings via closed circuit television from the cell adjoining the courtroom. (Id. at 149-50.) Once the closed circuit television was set up, the trial continued.

4. The Government's Case

The Government's first witness was Parole Officer Harry Ramirez. He testified that he began supervising Defendant in September 2005 and continued to do so until March 2006. (Id. at 160-62.) Defendant reported to Officer Ramirez that he resided at 1327 Merriam Avenue, Bronx, New York. (Id. at 162, 166.) Over the course of the supervision, Officer Ramirez had visited Defendant's residence "approximately ten times" (id. at 166) and had been inside Defendant's bedroom "a few times" (id. at 164-65).

Officer Ramirez testified that on March 20, 2006, at approximately 2:00 p.m., Defendant came to the parole office to report to Ramirez that he was having a problem in his neighborhood. (Id. at 165.) Unable to confer with Defendant at that time, Officer Ramirez informed Defendant that he would stop by his residence later that evening for a visit. (Id. at 165.)

At approximately 11:30 p.m. that evening, Officer Ramirez, along with his partner Parole Officer Carlos Sanchez, went to 1327 Merriam Avenue to see Defendant. (Id. at 167-68.) Officer Ramirez described the residence as "a private house" with individual bedrooms that are rented out to tenants. (Id. at 166.) Officer Ramirez was let into the house by a woman who had just arrived at the residence in a taxi cab and who said she was also a resident there. (Id. at 168-69; see also id. at 290.) Other than that woman, Ramirez did not see anyone else inside building, the common areas, or outside Defendant's bedroom. (Id. at 169-70.) Officer Sanchez remained behind in the vehicle and waited while Officer Ramirez entered Defendant's residence. (Id. at 290.)

Having entered the residence, Officer Ramirez knocked on Defendant's bedroom door and waited thirty seconds to a minute for a response. (Id. at 170.) After Defendant inquired who was there and Ramirez identified himself, Defendant opened the door. (Id. at 170.) "As soon as [he] walked in" the door to Defendant's bedroom, Parole Officer Ramirez saw a gun on top of Defendant's nightstand. (Id. at 171.) Ramirez described it as a small caliber gun whose handle was covered by latex and rubberbands (id. at 172) and that was, to his best recollection, black and silver in color (id. at 238).

Upon discovering the gun on the nightstand in Defendant's bedroom, Officer Ramirez "picked it up, took it in [his] possession" (id. at 172) and then handcuffed Defendant. When he asked Defendant "what's this doing here" (id. at 208), Defendant replied "he needed [the gun] for his protection" (id. at 208, 253) and that he "had a problem with somebody on his floor" (id. at 253). Ramirez asked Defendant whether he had "anything else in his room." (Id. at ...


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