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United States v. Hazelrigg

October 29, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENT HAZELRIGG, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Karen E. Schreier Chief Judge

ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S ORDERS DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SEVERANCE, DISCLOSURE OF CO-CONSPIRATOR'S STATEMENT AND FOR BILL OF PARTICULARS

The superseding indictment charges defendant Kent Hazelrigg with the crimes of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine (Count I) and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine (Count II). Also charged in Count I as a co-conspirator is co-defendant Curt Romanyshyn and other unnamed co-conspirators.

Hazelrigg moves to sever his trial from the trial of Romanyshyn, for a bill of particulars, and for disclosure of co-conspirator's statements and for a James hearing. The government opposes the motions. The court referred the motions to Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Magistrate Judge Duffy denied Hazelrigg's motions for severance, for a bill of particulars, and for disclosure of co-conspirator's statements and for a James hearing. Hazelrigg now seeks reconsideration of those orders.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A district court may reconsider a magistrate judge's ruling on nondispositive pretrial matters where it has been shown that the ruling is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). See also Ferguson v. United States, 484 F.3d 1068, 1076 (8th Cir. 2007). The district court shall review the objected to portions of the order de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

DISCUSSION

A. Severance

Magistrate Judge Duffy concluded that Hazelrigg and Romanyshyn were properly joined under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 8(b) because the indictment alleges that they participated in the same exact drug conspiracy in Count I and that, in separate counts, they are alleged to have distributed methamphetamine in Rapid City, South Dakota, in February of 2008.

Hazelrigg moves this court to reconsider and reverse the magistrate judge's order. Hazelrigg argues that defendants are improperly joined in the same indictment because the government does not have evidence that Romanyshyn and Hazelrigg engaged in any action between themselves or others that could satisfy the definition of a federal conspiracy. Hazelrigg asks this court to make the government proffer its conspiracy evidence.

Hazelrigg is in essence arguing that the government does not have sufficient evidence to support the finding of probable cause by the grand jury. The Eighth Circuit has recognized, however, that "an indictment is not open to challenge on the ground that there was inadequate or insufficient evidence before the grand jury." United States v. Nelson, 165 F.3d 1180, 1182 (8th Cir. 1999).

"Rule 8(b) requires that there be some common activity involving all of the defendants which embraces all the charged offenses even though every defendant need not have participated in or be charged with each offense." United States v. Bledsoe, 674 F.2d 647, 656 (8th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1040 (1982). Because both Hazelrigg and Romanyshyn are alleged to have engaged in the same drug conspiracy in Count I, Rule 8(b) is satisfied.

Hazelrigg also contends that he is entitled to severance under Rule 14 because the jury would not be able to compartmentalize the evidence, the government's evidence is not sufficient to make a prima facie case of conspiracy, and the magistrate judge erred in finding that Hazelrigg did not present sufficient evidence that, if tried alone, Romanyshyn would testify on his behalf.

Even if joinder of the defendants is proper under Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a), the court may sever the defendants' trials if joinder would appear to prejudice a defendant or the government. United States v. Davis, 534 F.3d 903, 916 (8th Cir. 2008). The burden, however, is upon the defendant to show "real prejudice." Id. "Real prejudice" is shown if either the moving defendant's defense is irreconcilable with the defense of the co-defendant or the jury would be unable to compartmentalize the evidence as it relates to the separate defendants. Id. at 916-17. "Generally, the risk that a joint trial will prejudice one or more of the defendants 'is best cured by careful and thorough jury instructions.' " Id.

Here, the jury will be instructed on what the government needs to prove in relation to each offense and each defendant charged. And the jury will be instructed to consider each defendant separately. Other than general conclusory objections, Hazelrigg has not made a sufficient showing that the jury would be unable to follow these instructions. With regard to the sufficiency of the evidence of a conspiracy, that issue is properly addressed at the close of the government's case and not in a motion to sever. Finally, Hazelrigg's contention that Romanyshyn would testify on his behalf if the defendants were severed is not sufficient to show that his co-defendant's testimony would be "substantially exculpatory" as is required by United States v. Mickelson, 378 F.3d 810, 818 (8th Cir. 2004). The proffered testimony of Romanyshyn is a general statement that to his knowledge Hazelrigg did not participate in the conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Similar testimony has not been considered by the Eighth Circuit to be "substantially ...


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