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United States v. Ulbricht

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 2, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ROSS WILLIAM ULBRICHT, a/k/a

OPINION & ORDER

KATHERINE B. FORREST, District Judge.

Pending before the Court are several applications by the parties to modify the proposed jury instructions circulated by the Court on January 23, 2015. (ECF No. 162.) This Opinion & Order sets forth the Court's determinations as to several proposed modifications.[1]

A. "Multiple Conspiracies" Instruction

The parties disagree as to whether a "multiple conspiracies" instruction is necessary in this case. Such an instruction is unnecessary.

The main purpose of a "multiple conspiracies" instruction is to avoid any "spill over effect' of permitting testimony regarding one conspiracy to prejudice the mind of the jury against the defendant who is not part of that conspiracy but another." United States v. Restrepo, 547 F.Appx. 34, 40 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary order) (quoting United States v. Harris, 8 F.3d 943, 947 (2d Cir. 1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted). This instruction is thus appropriate in a multipledefendant case where "there is a legitimate concern that a defendant who operated on the periphery of a large, overarching conspiracy will be unfairly grouped in with a larger conspiracy than he intended to join." United States v. Richardson, 532 F.3d 1279, 1291 (11th Cir. 2008); see also Harris, 8 F.3d at 947 ("The spill over effect is most pronounced when there is a lengthy trial of numerous defendants." (citation omitted)).

By contrast, a "multiple conspiracies" instruction is unnecessary "where the indictment charges only one defendant who is at the hub of the conspiracy." Richardson, 532 F.3d at 1291. In such a case, there is no danger of any "spill over effect, " since the defendant is alleged to have participated in all conspiratorial conduct. See United States v. Corey, 566 F.2d 429, 431 n.3 (2d Cir. 1977) ("Even if there were two conspiracies, ... the fact that only a single conspiracy was charged did not and could not have prejudiced the defendant by spillover or otherwise."). Even if multiple conspiracies are ultimately proved at trial, the defendant will suffer no prejudice because those multiple conspiracies "could properly have been joined in the same indictment, since there was only one defendant." United States v. Sir Kue Chin, 534 F.2d 1032, 1035 (2d Cir. 1976).

Courts in the Second Circuit have consistently found that a "multiple conspiracies" charge is unnecessary in the trial of a single defendant. See, e.g., Corey, 566 F.2d at 431 n.3 ("[S]ingle/multiple conspiracy analysis does not apply to the trial of a single defendant." (citing Sir Kue Chin, 534 F.2d at 1035)); United States v. Ling, 172 F.Appx. 365, 366 (2d Cir. 2006) (summary order) (same); United States v. Atkins, No. 10 CR 391-04 CM, 2012 WL 1415625, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 19, 2012) (same); United States v. Magassouba, No. 03 CR 985 (RPP), 2010 WL 624284, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2010) ("The weight of Second Circuit authority instructs that a multiple conspiracy charge is not appropriate in a single-defendant case such as this." (citations omitted)), aff'd, 433 F.Appx. 10 (2d Cir. 2011) (summary order).

Other circuits agree. See, e.g., United States v. Martin, 618 F.3d 705, 735 n.30 (7th Cir. 2010) ("[A]s long as the district court instructs the jury on the nature of the conspiracy charge, emphasizing that the Government must prove that the defendant intentionally agreed to advance the aim of the conspiracy, there is usually no need for a multiple conspiracies instruction when a defendant is tried alone."); Richardson, 532 F.3d at 1291 (agreeing with Second Circuit that "multiple conspiracies instruction was neither necessary nor appropriate" where defendant was tried alone); United States v. Anguiano, 873 F.2d 1314, 131 (9th Cir. 1989) ("[T]here is no problem of spillover when... the defendant stands trial alone." (citations omitted)). The Court is unaware of any case in which a Court of Appeals set aside a conviction as a result of the district's court's failure to administer a "multiple conspiracies" instruction in a single-defendant case.

There is no basis to administer a "multiple conspiracies" instruction in this case. There is no risk of any prejudicial spillover because defendant-alleged to be in the center of all the alleged conspiratorial activity-is tried alone.[2] Count Three charges defendant with conspiring with others to violate the narcotics laws, and the jury will be instructed on the elements of that offense. It will be up to the jury to determine whether or not those elements have been established beyond a reasonable doubt. Any further instruction as to the conspiracy charge is unnecessary and will only confuse the jury.

Defendant cites United States v. Serrano, No. 13-CR-58 KBF, 2015 WL 81974 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 6, 2015), but Serrano is consistent with the case law cited above. In Serrano, a defendant was charged, inter alia, with participating in a conspiracy to distribute both heroin and cocaine. See 2015 WL 81974 at *1. The jury convicted the defendant of participating in the conspiracy, but found that the Government did not prove that the conspiracy involved the requisite amount of heroin. See id. The defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal or a new trial arguing, inter alia, that the "jury's rejection of the heroin conspiracy evidence amount[ed] to a finding that the cocaine conspiracy was a separate independent conspiracy from the heroin conspiracy." Id. at *5 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court rejected this multiple-conspiracies defense, explaining that even if the evidence established two separate conspiracies, the defendant was not prejudiced because he was tried as a single defendant and, therefore, the two conspiracies were properly joined in the indictment. See id. (citing Sir Kue Chin, 534 F.2d at 1035).[3] This holding is consistent with the case law cited above.

B. Withdrawal Instruction

The Government argues that the jury should be instructed on withdrawal from a conspiracy. The Government has proposed the following instruction on withdrawal:

Once a person joins a conspiracy, that person remains a member unless and until he withdraws from it completely. In order to withdraw from the conspiracy, a conspirator must show that he took some affirmative act to disavow or defeat the purpose of the conspiracy. He can do so either by informing law enforcement of the criminal activities of the conspiracy or by communicating his abandonment of the conspiracy in a manner reasonably calculated to reach co-conspirators. Merely ceasing to play a part in the conspiracy is not sufficient by itself to establish withdrawal from the conspiracy. Moreover, if, after initially attempting to withdraw, a conspirator takes any subsequent acts to promote the conspiracy or receives any additional benefits from the conspiracy, he cannot be considered to have withdrawn from the conspiracy. The defendant has the burden of proving that he withdrew from the conspiracy by a preponderance of the evidence. To prove something by a preponderance of the evidence means to prove that it is more likely true than not true.
If you find that the defendant at some point withdrew from the conspiracy, he is not responsible for the acts of his co-conspirators following his withdrawal. However, the defendant still would have been part of the conspiracy until the point of withdrawal. In other words, even if you conclude that the defendant withdrew from the conspiracy at a ...

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