United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
RICHARD J. ARCARA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
jury trial, both Defendants were convicted of one count of
retaliating against a witness in an official federal
proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§
1513(b)(1), 1513(c), and 2. Specifically, both Defendants
were found guilty of directing an assault on Anthony
Maldonado, a witness in a federal criminal trial, in
retaliation for Maldonado's testimony in that
final pretrial conference on July 5, 2017, the Government
disclosed that one or both Defendants had spoken to a trial
witness, Esteban Ramos-Cruz, when the Defendants and
Ramos-Cruz were in the same area of the courthouse earlier
that day. The Government alleged that the Defendants had
attempted to intimidate Ramos-Cruz.
trial, the Defendants moved to preclude evidence that they
had allegedly attempted to “tamper” with
Ramos-Cruz. Docket No. 223 at 4-7. The Defendants
argued that Federal Rules of Evidence 403 and 404(b) made
such evidence inadmissible, as did the Sixth Amendment's
argument on the Defendants' motion the next morning, the
Government disclosed that one or both Defendants had again
spoken to Ramos-Cruz that morning. After hearing argument,
the Court ordered an evidentiary hearing to help the Court
understand the facts giving rise to the Defendants'
motion and, in particular, their Sixth Amendment claim. At
the hearing that afternoon, the Court heard testimony from
Ramos-Cruz and Deputy United States Marshal Lee Eckenrode.
Neither Defendant called any witnesses.
the hearing the Court issued a brief oral ruling denying the
Defendants' motion. The Court held that neither Rule
404(b) nor Rule 403 barred admission of the Defendants'
statements. The Court also concluded that the Sixth Amendment
did not preclude admission of the statements. Finally, the
Court noted that it would file a written decision stating the
reasons for its ruling in more detail.
noted, Deputy United States Marshal Lee Eckenrode testified
at the suppression hearing. Deputy Eckenrode has served in
the United States Marshals Service (USMS) for seven years.
Tr. 2:15-19. As relevant here, Deputy Eckenrode was
“in charge of managing the day-to-day affairs with
respect to the defendants and the witnesses in this
case.” Tr. 2:24 - 3:1.
Eckenrode testified about how and when in-custody individuals
are separated from each other, both inside and outside the
courthouse. In the time leading up to trial in this case, the
USMS held the Defendants at the Niagara County Jail, while
Ramos-Cruz was held in the Cattaraugus County Jail. Tr. 3:13
- 4:3. Deputy Eckenrode testified that, before trial began,
the Government placed keep-away orders between the Defendants
and the trial witnesses. Tr. 3:6-12. When the USMS transfers
custody of prisoner to a local jail, that jail is
“provided with paperwork that shows any keep-away,
whether it's at that facility or another.” 5:21-24.
Thus, in this case, the Niagara County and Cattaraugus County
Jails knew, or should have known, about the keep-away orders
in place between the Defendants and Ramos-Cruz. Tr. 5:25 -
Eckenrode testified that, “[f]or trial purposes,
” it is his “practice to bring the defendants
[who] are on trial to the same floor where the trial is going
to take place” (in this case, the ninth floor of the
courthouse), while he places all in-custody witnesses on
another floor, other than the fourth floor, where the
USMS's main cellblock is located. Tr. 4:12-17. Deputy
Eckenrode also testified that, on “[d]ays that
don't involve trial, [the USMS] will only isolate
somebody if necessary.” Tr. 11:4-5. Finally, Deputy
Eckenrode testified that, on the eve of trial, it is his
practice to place defendants and trial witnesses “in .
. . different cell[s] or isolation cell[s]” to
“ensure that [defendants and trial witnesses] . . .
ha[ve] no chance to speak or see each other.” Tr.
Eckenrode also very credibly testified that he did not place
“witnesses near trial defendants [in this case] so that
[he] could solicit incriminating statements.” Tr.
13:2-5. Likewise, Deputy Eckenrode testified, no one from
“the government, ” including the Assistant United
States Attorneys who prosecuted this case, requested that he
“intentionally place witnesses near the defendant[s] so
[Government agents] c[ould] solicit incriminating
statements.” Tr. 13:6 -10.
noted, Defendant Cotto made the statements at issue on two
different days. The first statement was made on July 5, when
the Defendants were brought to the courthouse for the final
pretrial conference. The second statement was made on the
morning of July 10, when the Defendants were brought to the
courthouse for trial. Ramos-Cruz was also brought to the
courthouse on those dates: On July 5 he was brought to the
courthouse to prepare for trial, and on July 10 he was
brought to the courthouse to testify.
Court considers the events of each date in turn.
The July 5, ...