United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
J. CONRAD, JR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court upon Defendant
Okomba's Motion for Severance of Defendants, (Doc. No.
39), and the government's Response, (Doc. No. 40). For
the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the motion.
case involves a four-count indictment charging Jaqueline
Dianne Okomba and Laurence A. Sessum, with directing a
fraudulent debt collection scheme. (Doc. No. 3). They are
named in each count for offenses including: conspiracy to
commit mail and wire fraud (Count One); wire fraud (Count
Two); conspiracy to commit money laundering (Count Three);
and destruction of objects and records (Count
Four). (Id.). Factual allegations
describe their roles in Direct Processing LLC, with Okomba
listed as the registered agent and a member-owner and Sessum
designated as owner and operator. (Id. at 1-2).
Additionally, the indictment details transactions allegedly
conducted by Okomba and Sessum using company accounts, as
well as actions each allegedly took to remove or destroy
computers and documents when an account was frozen by a
seizure warrant served by the FBI. (Id. at 4-5).
claims that her trial should be severed from Sessum's to
allow her to testify as she chooses and to avoid
“spill-over” prejudice from the allegedly greater
weight of evidence against Sessum, including a prior
conviction for similar conduct. (Doc. No. 39 at 2-3).
Joinder of Defendants
8(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that
a single “indictment ... may charge two 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.”
Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(b). Moreover, the rule adds that
“defendants may be charged in one or more counts
together or separately” and that “[a]ll
defendants need not be charged in each count.”
general, “[j]oinder is highly favored in conspiracy
cases, over and above the general disposition supporting
joinder for reasons of efficiency and judicial
economy.” United States v. Dinkins, 691 F.3d
358, 367-68 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal citation and quotations
omitted); see United States v. Akinkoye, 185 F.3d
192, 197 (4th Cir. 1999) (noting that courts generally
“adhere to the rule that defendants charged with
participation in the same conspiracy are to be tried
jointly). Here, joinder is permissible under Rule 8(b)
because both defendants allegedly participated “in the
same series of acts or transactions, constituting” the
charges they jointly face.
Relief from Prejudicial Joinder
14(a) provides that a court may order separate trials
“[i]f the joinder of ... defendants in an indictment
... appears to prejudice a defendant.” Fed. R. Crim. P.
14(a). However, Fourth Circuit courts adhere to the
“general principle that when defendants are indicted
together, they should be tried together.”
Dinkins, 691 F.3d at 368 (citation omitted) (noting
that joint trials serve the interests of justice by providing
greater efficiency and avoiding inconsistent verdicts). In
turn, a defendant seeking severance under Rule 14 must
establish that “actual prejudice would result from a
joint trial and not merely that a separate trial would offer
a better chance at acquittal.” United States v.
Reavis, 48 F.3d 763, 767 (4th Cir. 1995) (citations and
internal quotations omitted). In addition, when “an
indictment properly has joined two or more defendants under
the provisions of Rule 8(b), severance pursuant to Rule 14 is
rarely granted.” Dinkins, 691 F.3d at 368
(citations and internal quotations omitted). Thus, severance
should only be granted when ‘“there is a serious
risk that a joint trial would compromise a specific trial
right of one of the defendants, or prevent the jury from
making a reliable judgment about guilt or
innocence.”' Id. (quoting Zafiro v.
United States, 506 U.S. 534, 539 (1993)).
Okomba has not shown she would be prejudiced by a joint trial
with Sessum. First, she has not shown any reason that the
Court would limit her testimony if she chooses to attempt to
exculpate herself and inculpate Sessum, subject to
cross-examination. Second, even if the quantum of evidence
against Sessum is greater, there is no risk Okomba would face
unfair prejudice because evidence of Sessum's conduct
would be independently admissible in a separate trial as
reasonably foreseeable acts of an alleged co-conspirator in
furtherance of the charged mail, wire, and money laundering
conspiracies, which the government forecasts in this case.
See United States v. Gilliam, 987 F.2d 1009, 1012-13
(finding a co-conspirator responsible for the reasonably
foreseeable actions committed by co-conspirators within the
scope of the conspiracy). Moreover, the risk of any spillover
prejudice can be cured by a limiting instruction regarding
the jury's permissible consideration of such evidence,
such as Sessum's prior conviction. Zafiro, 506
U.S. at 539. Therefore, the Court will deny the motion to
sever, finding that the defendants were permissibly joined
under Rule 8(b) and that Okomba has not shown a serious risk
of prejudice by being joined for trial with an alleged
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that the Motion for Severance