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United States v. Stockman

July 28, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BEN STOCKMAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Veronica L. Duffy United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SEVERANCE

INTRODUCTION

Defendant Ben Stockman moved this court to sever the trial of his charges from that of his co-defendant and to sever the trial of the three charges he is facing in the indictment. See Docket No. 24. The government resists the motion. This motion was referred for decision to this magistrate judge by the Chief District Court Judge, the Honorable Karen E. Schreier pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).

FACTS

Mr. Stockman is charged in the indictment filed with the court on May 19, 2009, with the crimes of conspiracy to distribute cocaine (Count I), possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute (Count II), and distribution of cocaine (Count III). See Docket No. 1. The cocaine conspiracy count is alleged to have been joined in by Mr. Stockman and his co-defendant Joe Bradley, as well as other unnamed co-conspirators. The conspiracy is alleged to have taken place in the District of South Dakota and elsewhere.

The time frames alleged in the indictment are from October, 2005, through May 19, 2009, the date of the indictment, for the conspiracy count. The distribution count as well as the possession with intent to distribute count are alleged to have taken place in August, 2008, in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Mr. Stockman filed his motion for severance, seeking a separate trial from Joe Bradley, and seeking separate trials on each of the three charges he is facing. See Docket No. 24. The government filed a written response in resistance to Mr. Stockman's motion. See Docket No. 33.

DISCUSSION

A. Severance of the Trial of Co-Defendants is Not Warranted Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 8(b) provides as follows: Joinder of Defendants. The indictment or information may charge 2 or more defendants 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. The defendants may be charged in one or more counts together or separately. All defendants need not be charged in each count.

See Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(b). The court has no discretion to deny severance of defendants who are not properly joined under Rule 8(b). See United States v. Bledsoe, 674 F.2d 647, 654 (8th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom, 459 U.S. 1040 (1982). Misjoinder of defendants under Rule 8(b) is inherently prejudicial. Id. (citing United States v. Sanders, 563 F.2d 379, 382 (8th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1020 (1978); Haggard v. United States, 369 F.2d 968, 972-973 (8th Cir. 1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 1023 (1967); United States v. Marionneaux, 514 F.2d 1244, 1248 (5th Cir. 1975); 8 Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 8.04(2), at 14 (2d ed. 1981)). The propriety of joinder under Rule 8(b) must appear on the face of the indictment. Bledsoe, 674 F.2d at 655; Sanders, 563 F.2d at 382. The prerequisites for joinder of defendants under Rule 8(b) are to be liberally construed in favor of the defendant. Bledsoe, 674 F.2d at 655.

Importantly, Mr. Stockman does not take issue with the propriety of joinder of he and Mr. Bradley under Rule 8(b). Therefore, the court presumes that Mr. Stockman and Mr. Bradley are properly joined under Rule 8(b).*fn1

Instead, Mr. Stockman's sole authority in support of his argument for severance of the trial of the defendants in this case is Fed. R. Crim. P. 14.

Once it is determined that defendants are properly joined under Rule 8(b), "[t]he presumption against severing properly joined cases is strong." United States v. Ruiz, 412 F.3d 871, 886 (8th Cir. 2005). "Under Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a), the issue of severance is entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial judge." United States v. Hively, 437 F.3d 752, 765 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation omitted).

Even if joinder of two or more defendants is proper under Rule 8(b), the court may sever the defendants' trials under Fed. R. Crim. P. 14 if joinder of the defendants appears to prejudice a defendant or the government. United States v. Davis, 534 F.3d 903, 916 (8th Cir. 2008). The fact that a defendant is alleged to have played a small role in the overall scheme or conspiracy is not dispositive ...


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