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United States v. Wright

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

March 13, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
BRIANNA LESHAY WRIGHT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Max O. Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Wright's Motion to Sever under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14 (#64) and the government's Response (#67). Having considered the Motion to Sever, the Memorandum in Support, and the Response, the Court enters the following findings, conclusions, and Order denying severance.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         I. Background

         In an eight-count Indictment, the Grand Jury has alleged that between April 28 and May 8, 2016, defendants conspired to transport three minor victims across state lines from Charlotte, North Carolina to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. In particular, the government contends that the defendants devised a scheme to bring the minor victims to Myrtle Beach so that the minors could perform commercial sex acts to raise bail money for Co-defendant Zerrell Fuentes (who is Defendant Brianna Wright's spouse).

         II. Defendant Wright's Motion to Sever

         Defendant Wright first contends that her trial should be severed from the trial of her codefendants because evidence presented against her husband will unfairly prejudice her and result in the jury's inability to make an individualized determination as to whether she is guilty or not guilty. She contends that “spillover evidence” would interfere with her right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment. She also contends that a joint trial would improperly pit her constitutional right to testify against the common law adverse spousal testimonial privilege.

         A. Applicable Standards

         Motions to sever are governed by both Rules 8 and 14 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and a two-step analysis is typically necessary. See 8 Moore's Federal Practice, ¶13.03[2] at 13-9 (Matthew Bender). While defendant has not challenged joinder by the Grand Jury, review of initial joinder under Rule 8 is important in understanding whether defendants should be severed under Rule 14.

         1. Rule 8 Joinder

         The first step is to determine whether the defendants were initially joined by the Grand Jury in accordance with Rule 8. If they are deemed properly joined, the analysis proceeds to the second step, which requires a determination of whether such joinder, while satisfying Rule 8, is nevertheless unfairly prejudicial under Rule 14 when weighed against judicial efficiency. Rule 8(b) provides:

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.

Fed.R.Crim.P. 8(b). Thus, joinder of defendants is appropriate where the defendants are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction constituting an offense or offenses against the United States. Id. In Cataneo v. United States, 167 F.2d 820, 822 (4th Cir. 1948), the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit explained the term “transaction”:

This is not a technical term, nor is it a word of art. It has been variously defined and applied in numerous cases arising under the old Federal Equity Rules and in Code Pleading in connection with the joinder of causes of action and the permissibility of interposing counterclaims. Oft-quoted is the remark (under Equity Rule 30) of Mr. Justice Sutherland, in Moore v. New York Cotton Exchange, 270 U.S. 593, 610 [1926] ... “‘Transaction' is a word of flexible meaning. It may comprehend a series of ...

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