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United States v. Dodt

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

February 4, 2019

DONALD DODT, Defendant.


          Max O. Cogbum Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on defendant's Motion to Sever [and] Objection to Further Continuances.[1] Turning to the Motion to Sever, which has now been fully briefed, the motion will be denied for the reasons that follow.


         I. Motion for Severance: Applicable Standard

         Motions to sever are governed by Rules 8 and 14 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and require a two-step analysis. See 8 Moore's Federal Practice, ¶ 13.03[2] at 13-9 (Matthew Bender). First, defendants must have been properly joined by the Grand Jury in accordance with Rule 8. Second, even if properly joined under Rule 8, joinder must not be unfairly prejudicial to defendant when “weighed against the court's interest in judicial economy” under Rule 14. United States v. Adoma, No. 3:14-cr-00229-MOC, 2017 WL 220132, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Jan. 18, 2017).

         Under Rule 8, joinder of defendants in one indictment 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.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(a). The Fourth Circuit strictly adheres to the principle that “when defendants are indicted together, they should be tried together.” United States v. Dinkins, 691 F.3d 358, 368 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing United States v. Singh, 518 F.3d 236, 255 (4th Cir. 2008)); see also United States v. Medford, 661 F.3d 746, 753 (4th Cir. 2011) (“[T]here is a presumption in favor of joint trials in cases in which defendants have been indicted together.”); United States v. Shealey, 641 F.3d 627, 633 (4th Cir. 2011). This presumption is especially strong in conspiracy cases, such as this one. See, e.g., United States v. Lawson, 677 F.3d 629, 639 (4th Cir. 2012); United States v. Brooks, 957 F.2d 1138, 1145 (4th Cir. 1992); United States v. Tedder, 801 F.2d 1437, 1450 (4th Cir. 1986) (“The gravamen of conspiracy is that each conspirator is fully liable for the acts of all coconspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy. Thus, joinder is highly favored in conspiracy cases, over and above the general disposition towards joinder for reasons of efficiency and judicial economy.”). As such, severance pursuant to Rule 14 is rarely granted. Dinkins, 691 F.3d at 368; United States v. Hornsby, 666 F.3d 296, 309 (4th Cir. 2012) (noting when offenses “are properly joined under Rule 8(a), severance of the offenses is rare”).

         Rule 14 calls for severance of claims or defendants if the joinder of either is prejudicial. Any such prejudice must be weighed against judicial economy. Defendants seeking severance face a high burden. As the moving party, the defendant “must establish that actual prejudice would result from a joint trial.” United States v. Duke, 48 F.3d 763, 767 (4th Cir. 1995) (quotations and citations omitted). Severance should be granted only where “there is a serious risk that a joint trial would compromise a specific trial right of one of the defendants, ” or to “prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or innocence.” Shealey, 641 F.3d at 633 (“Appellant's theory of injury is indirect at best, since it assumes that the delay strengthened the Government's case and, in turn, weakened his own case. But that fails to articulate any injury to ‘a specific trial right.'”) (quoting Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 539 (1993)). It is not sufficient that defendant states he would have a better chance of acquittal if severance were granted. Reavis, 48 F.3d at 767. Prejudice exists where joinder is likely to infringe on defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. Adoma, 2017 WL 220132, at *2 (citing United States v. Boffa, 513 F.Supp. 444 (D. Del. 1980)). The moving defendant must, therefore, show his joinder in co-defendants' trial will impair his constitutional right to a fair trial. 8 Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 14.02[1], 14- 5, 6 (citing United States v. LaRouche, 896 F.2d 815 (4th Cir. 1990)).

         II. Discussion

         As to the first determination, Dodt does not challenge his joinder as a co-defendant under Rule 8. In any event, the indictment against Dodt and co-defendants allege that they were all involved in the same acts and transactions with respect to the same fraudulent venture and conspiracy. As such, the Court finds that Dodt was properly joined as a defendant in this case. As to the second determination, Dodt forwards a number of arguments why severance is necessary to prevent prejudice against him at trial or in reaching trial.

         A. Sixth Amendment Right to a Speedy and Fair Trial

         Plaintiff argues that his continued joinder with his codefendants will impact his right to a speedy and fair trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Essentially, defendant acknowledges that he himself has asked for and received a number of continuances and, having been allowed sufficient time to prepare, he is now ready trial. He contends that if he is required to further wait for any of his codefendants -- or codefendants who are fugitives but captured before the next term - beyond the March 2019 term, he will be denied his right to a speedy and fair trial.

         This action commenced on September 16, 2015, when the Indictment was returned. Despite a warrant issuing that day for his arrest, defendant did not first appear in this matter until more than two years later on October 6, 2017, with arraignment on October 12, 2017. (Defendant was arrested on October 4, 2017, in Costa Rica.) Since that appearance, defendant has filed the following motions to continue trial:

Motion to Continue (#144)
Motion to Continue ...

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