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United States of America v. Willie Wilson

September 14, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIE WILSON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scott A. Oravec United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION REGARDING MOTION TO SEVER COUNT II (Dkt 220) AND MOTION TO SEVER COUNTS V, VI, AND VII (Dkt 221)

INTRODUCTION

Willie Wilson was charged with six offenses in a seven-count indictment. Wilson filed a Motion to Sever Count II from the remaining counts (Docket no. 220) and a Motion to Sever Counts V, VI and VII from the remaining counts (Docket no. 221). Wilson argues that evidence presented by the United States with regard to Counts II, V, VI, and VII would be improperly considered by the jury with respect to the other counts creating a prejudicial impact. Oral argument or an evidentiary hearing was not requested. For the following reasons, I find that joinder of Count II, V, VI, and VII was proper, and that severance of the charges is not warranted.

LEGAL STANDARDS

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permit joinder of offenses if the offenses are of the same or similar character, based on the same act or transgression, or are based on acts or transactions that are connected or constitute parts of a common scheme.*fn1 Joinder is the default rule, not the exception.*fn2 Although not defined in the rules, the Ninth Circuit has held that the term "transaction" is to be interpreted flexibly.*fn3 A "series of transactions" can be shown by "the existence of a common plan, scheme, or conspiracy" or by showing that the evidence of common activity constitutes a substantial portion of proof of the joined charges.*fn4

Once the United States has demonstrated that joinder is proper pursuant to Rule 8(a), the defendant has the burden to demonstrate that the counts should be severed.*fn5 Counts should be severed if the joinder is so "manifestly prejudicial" that it outweighs the concerns of judicial economy and compels the court to sever.*fn6 Prejudice can occur to a defendant when:

"(1) he may become embarrassed or confounded in presenting separate defenses; (2) the jury may use the evidence of one of the crimes charged to infer a criminal disposition on the part of the defendant from which is found his guilt of the other crime or crimes charged; or (3) the jury may cumulate the evidence of the various crimes charged and find guilt when, if considered separately, it would not so find."*fn7

There is also a risk of undue prejudice when joinder allows a jury to consider evidence of other crimes where the evidence would otherwise be inadmissible.*fn8 However, "[i]f all of the evidence of the separate count would be admissible upon severance, prejudice is not heightened by joinder. A trial court does not abuse its discretion in denying severance under Rule 14 under such circumstances."*fn9 Even if "evidence concerning the other crime is limited or not admissible, our primary concern is whether the jury can reasonably be expected to "compartmentalize the evidence" so that evidence of one crime does not taint the jury's consideration of another crime."*fn10 Finally, courts should construe Rule 8 liberally in favor of joinder.*fn11

FACTS

Wilson was charged, along with several co-conspirators, under a seven-count indictment for a variety of federal offenses, including narcotics offenses, retaliating against a witness, and attempted murder of that witness. The allegations of the conspiracy include drug transactions which occurred at two residences in Fairbanks, Alaska: a residence on Fouts Road and a residence on Adams Drive.

After Wilson and his co-defendants were indicted, the prosecution turned over police reports to the defendants which were mistakenly unredacted, and contained the name of a confidential informant. Shortly thereafter, the informant, who was being held at the Fairbanks Correctional Center with Wilson, was allegedly assaulted by Wilson. Wilson concedes that he did engage in conduct that caused bodily injury to the informant, but denied attempting to murder him. Wilson filed a motion requesting that the Court dismiss Counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 of the indictment (Docket no. 188), as well as for a bill of particulars (Docket no. 219), to sever the conduct at Fouts Road from the other conduct charged in the indictment (to sever Count II) and to sever the retaliation and attempted murder counts from the other conduct charged in the indictment (to sever Count V, VI, and VII).*fn12 This Report and Recommendation will only consider Wilson's motions to sever at docket no. 220 and no. 221.*fn13

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

In this case, the United States has met its burden under Rule 8(a). The United States' contention is that the conduct that occurred at both the Fouts residence and the Adams residence are part of a larger narcotics conspiracy. Although Wilson disputes that assertion,"[t]he allegations of the indictment are presumed to be true."*fn14 The United States alleges that Wilson was part of a large narcotics distribution conspiracy, focused primarily on cocaine. This gave rise to the allegations in Count II.
Additionally, joinder is proper because Wilson has made no allegations that joinder will cause him to suffer undue prejudice.*fn15 For instance, Wilson does not contend that trying both drug counts together will force him to put forth conflicting defenses, that the jury would improperly consider evidence from one count in deciding the other account, or that the jury would improperly weigh the cumulative nature of the evidence.*fn16 Even if such allegations were made, joinder would not be so "manifestly prejudicial" as to outweigh the serious concerns of judicial economy.*fn17 Finally, if the United ...

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