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United States v. Brown

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 10, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff,
v.
TYRONE BROWN, ET AL., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

Defendant Antione Chambers moves to dismiss Count Three of the Second Superseding Indictment (the "Indictment"), which charges him with kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201, the "Federal Kidnapping Statute." For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 23, 2014, a federal grand jury returned the Indictment against Chambers and his co-defendants. The Indictment added a kidnapping charge against Chambers and his codefendant Glisson, who were already charged with: (i) conspiring to commit a robbery in or about March 2013, in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951; (ii) committing a robbery on or about March 25, 2013, and aiding and abetting the same, in violation of the Hobbs Act; and (iii) using and carrying firearms in furtherance of the robbery and kidnapping conspiracies.

The kidnapping charge appears in Count Three, and charges that:

On or about March 25, 2013, in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere, STEVEN GLISSON, a/k/a "Dee, " and ANTIONE CHAMBERS, a/k/a "Twizzie, " the defendants, and others known and unknown, willfully and knowingly did seize, confine, kidnap, abduct, and carry away and hold for ransom and reward and otherwise, a person, and use a means, facility, and instrumentality of interstate commerce in committing and in furtherance of the commission of the kidnapping, to wit, GLISSON and CHAMBERS kidnapped an individual for the purpose of carrying out a robbery of narcotics proceeds.

Chambers moves to dismiss Count Three for failing to allege an essential element. In the alternative, Chambers challenges the constitutionality of the Federal Kidnapping Statute on its face and as applied.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Validity of the Kidnapping Charge

Chambers challenges the sufficiency of Count Three for failing to allege adequately the use of an instrumentality of interstate commerce in committing or in furtherance of committing the alleged kidnapping. Chambers' challenge on sufficiency grounds is rejected because Count Three satisfies well established pleading requirements.

"It is well settled that an indictment is sufficient if it, first, contains the elements of the offense charged and fairly informs a defendant of the charge against which he must defend, and, second, enables him to plead an acquittal or conviction in bar of future prosecutions for the same offense.'" United States v. Alphonso, 143 F.3d 772, 776 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117 (1974)). "[A]n indictment must charge[ ] a crime with sufficient precision to inform the defendant of the charges he must meet and with enough detail that he may plead double jeopardy in a future prosecution based on the same set of events.'" Alphonso, 143 F.3d at 776 (quoting United States v. Stavroulakis, 952 F.2d 686, 693 (2d Cir. 1992)). "Nevertheless, an indictment need do little more than to track the language of the statute charged and state the time and place (in approximate terms) of the alleged crime.'" Id. (quoting Stavroulakis, 952 F.3d at 693).

Count Three contains the elements of the offense charged and adequately informs Chambers of the charge against which he must defend. It specifies the date of the charged offense, charges Chambers and his co-defendant with kidnapping as the term is used in the Federal Kidnapping Statute and then tracks the statutory language requiring the use of an instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in committing or in furtherance of the crime. Specifically, the statutory language criminalizes a kidnapping where the offender "travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses the mail or any means, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in committing or in furtherance of the commission of the offense." 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1) (emphasis added). Similarly, Count Three states that Chambers "use[d] a means, facility, and instrumentality of interstate commerce in committing and in furtherance of the commission of the kidnapping."

Language specifying the nature of the "means, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce" used by Chambers and his co-defendant is not a necessary element of a valid charge. The Second Circuit's reasoning is instructive in an analogous case, United States v. Alfonso, where the court considered the sufficiency of an indictment charging a violation of the Hobbs Act. 143 F.3d at 776. The Hobbs Act criminalizes robbery or extortion that "obstructs, delays, or affects" interstate commerce. 18 U.S.C. § 1951. The indictment in Alfonso "alleg[ed] in conclusory terms that defendants conspired to commit robbery and thereby affected interstate commerce" without specifying "what it was that defendants allegedly conspired to steal or precisely how the conspiracy would have affected interstate commerce." Alfonso, 143 F.3d at 776. In considering the defendants' challenge to the validity of the indictment, the Second Circuit expressly declined to hold that "an indictment alleging a violation of the Hobbs Act must specify the precise nature of the effect upon interstate commerce that the government intends to prove at trial." Id. Instead, it adhered to the long standing pleading requirements set forth above, namely, that an indictment must "accurately stat[e] the offense charged and the approximate time and place of the robbery that defendants allegedly conspired to commit." Id. The court concluded that the indictment satisfied that standard because it both specified the time and place of the robbery and accurately described the offense with which the defendants were charged, since it tracked the statutory language of the Hobbs Act. Id .; accord United States v. Woodruff, 50 F.3d 673, 676 (9th Cir. 1995) ("Although the [Hobbs Act] indictment contained no facts alleging how interstate commerce was interfered with, and did not state any theory of interstate impact... the indictment was sufficient as written."); United States v. Williams, 679 F.2d 504, 509 (5th Cir. 1982) ("An indictment which alleges the interstate commerce element of a federal offense in conclusory terms, without setting forth evidentiary detail, is not insufficient.") (construing the Hobbs Act).

The reasoning of the Second Circuit is equally applicable here. The lack of particularity with respect to the jurisdictional element of the Kidnapping Statute does not prevent Chambers from either mounting a defense or avoiding a second prosecution for the same offense. Chambers has been apprised of the jurisdictional element of the offense, and will have a full opportunity at trial to challenge whether the alleged use of the instrumentality passes constitutional muster. See United States v. Ramos, 12 Cr. 556, 2013 WL 1932110, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2013) ("In the instant case, the S2 Indictment alleges that Soto and Ramos used a means, facility, and instrumentality of interstate commerce in committing and in furtherance of the commission of the kidnapping'; thus, the Government has adequately alleged the jurisdictional element of the Federal Kidnapping Statute. Any determination as ...


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