United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.
Defendants Lorenzo Hunt and Ricky Proctor move separately for severance from their co-defendants. (Docket Nos. 415, 416.) Defendants are charged in a 6-defendant, 28-count superseding indictment with, inter alia, RICO conspiracy with 50 overt acts (18 U.S.C. § 1962(d)), Racketeering with 26 racketeering acts (18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)), and 26 counts of substantive offenses, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana (21 U.S.C. § 846), maintaining a drug-involved premises (21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1)), violent crime in aid of racketeering activity (18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1)), and possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)). For the following reasons, each motion is denied.
Defendants are charged with conspiring and participating in a marijuana distribution ring that operated in the Broadway Market area of the City of Buffalo, NY. Johnny Rounds, one of the six co-defendants, is alleged to be the leader of this distribution ring. He is further alleged to have used several houses in the area as storefronts, of a sort, selling $10 and $20 bags of marijuana through mail slots in the locked doors of the houses. He allegedly used other houses as "stash houses, " from which he would retrieve stores of marijuana to supply the distribution houses. Johnny Rounds's co-defendants-Proctor, Hunt, Donald Rounds, DeMario Stewart, and Broderick Robinson-are each alleged to have worked with him in this enterprise.
In 2009, Johnny Rounds and his crew became entangled in conflict with a rival group known as the LRGP gang, which was distributing drugs several blocks away from where Johnny Rounds operated. This conflict escalated when members of the LRGP gang allegedly broke into one of Johnny Rounds's stash houses and stole drugs, cash, jewelry, and clothing. Thereafter, Johnny Rounds allegedly called a meeting, which Defendants attended, during which he proclaimed that he wanted members of the LRGP dead.
Soon after, members of Johnny Rounds's crew began seeking out and shooting at LRGP members. LRGP members responded in kind. In the violent months that followed, three people were murdered: Brandon Haugabook; Larry Crosland; and Shawn Kozma. In addition to the numerous drug-related offenses, Johnny Rounds and his co-defendants are charged with these murders, either by way of conspiracy or substantive offense.
III. DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
Decisions on severance are reserved to the trial court's discretion and are considered by the Second Circuit to be "virtually unreviewable." See United States v. Harwood, 998 F.2d 91, 95 (2d Cir. 1993); United States v. LaSanta, 978 F.2d 1300, 1306 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting United States v. Cardascia, 951 F.2d 474, 482 (2d Cir. 1991)). There is, however, a preference in the federal system that defendants who are indicted together be tried together. See United States v. Ventura, 724 F.2d 305, 312 (2d Cir. 1983). This is particularly true when the underlying crime involves a common scheme or plan, in which case the slight prejudice to co-defendants is outweighed by the judicial economies resulting from avoiding duplicative trials. See United States v. Spinelli, 352 F.3d 48, 55 (2d Cir. 2003); Cardascia, 951 F.2d at 482. Joint trials are efficient, "play a vital role in the criminal justice system, " and "serve the interests of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts." Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 209-10, 107 S.Ct. 1702, 1708, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987).
B. Rules 8 and 14 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure
Multiple offenses may properly be charged together in an indictment or information if the offenses are "of the same or similar character, or are based on the same act or transaction, or are connected with or constitute parts of a common scheme or plan." FED. R. CRIM. P. 8(a). Similarly, multiple defendants may properly be charged together in an indictment or information "if they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction, or in the same series of acts or transactions, constituting an offense or offenses." FED. R. CRIM. P. 8(b).
Yet even if properly joined, offenses or defendants may be severed if joinder results in prejudice to a defendant or the government. FED. R. CRIM. P. 14(a). In such a case, the court may provide any relief that justice requires, including ordering separate trials of counts or severing the defendants' trials. Id. But "a district court should grant a severance under Rule 14 only if there is a serious risk that a joint trial would compromise a specific trial right of one of the defendants, or prevent the jury from ...