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United States v. Lewis

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 7, 2019

ISAIAH LEWIS (03), Defendant.



         Defendant Isaiah Lewis has filed a Motion for Severance and Separate Trial (Doc. 80) and, later, a Supplemental Motion to the same effect (Doc. 151). The government has filed a Response, both to the original motion (Doc. 140) and the supplemental one (Doc. 157). In between the two rounds of filings, the court conducted a hearing on the motion where the government presented evidence. See Doc. 145 (Clerk's Courtroom Minute Sheet) and Doc. 148 (Transcript of Hearing).

         Concluding that none of Mr. Lewis's arguments can justify the relief he seeks in his motions, the court has decided to deny his motions. This Order explains why.

         Legal Standard

          The legal principles governing Mr. Lewis's motions are well known. The court thus summarizes them briefly.

         When weighing the merits of a motion for severance, “the court must weigh the prejudice to a particular defendant caused by the joinder against the important considerations of economy and expedition in judicial administration.” United States v. Mabry, 809 F.2d 671, 681 (10th Cir. 1987), overruled on other grounds, United States v. Matthews, 485 U.S. 58 (1988)[1]; see also United States v. Walton, 552 F.2d 1354, 1362 (10th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 959 (1977). A severance request presents an issue of discretion, not one of right. The moving “defendant [thus] bears a heavy burden of demonstrating prejudice to his case.” Mabry, 809 F.2d at 682 (citing United States v. Parnell, 581 F.2d 1374 (10th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1476 (1979)). A trial court's decision denying a motion for severance is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Mabry, 809 F.2d at 682 (citing United States v. Butler, 494 F.2d 1246 (10th Cir. 1974)).

         In Zafiro v. United States, the Supreme Court recognized the “preference in the federal system for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together.” 506 U.S. 534, 537 (1993). Joint trials “play a vital role in the criminal justice system.” Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 209, (1987). They promote efficiency and “serve the interests of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts.” Id. at 210. Consequently, the Supreme Court has approved joint trials many times. Id.; see also Opper v. United States, 348 U.S. 84, 95 (1954).

         The decisions by our Circuit likewise recognize this preference. See United States v. Peveto, 881 F.2d 844, 856 n.16 (10th Cir. 1989) (courts generally adhere to the principle that “those indicted together, especially co-conspirators, should be tried together” (quoting 24 J.W. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice - Criminal Procedure § 614.05 (3d ed. 2010)); United States v. Jenkins, 904 F.2d 549, 556-57 (10th Cir. 1990) (persons jointly indicted should be tried together).


          Mr. Lewis's initial motion (Doc. 80) makes two arguments.

         First, Mr. Lewis argues that a joint trial in this case would present a Bruton problem. See Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 136-37 (1968). He bases this argument on the idea that two of his co-defendants-Albert Brown and Maurice Bluett-purportedly gave confessions to law enforcement agents after their arrests. Also, Mr. Lewis's motion assumes, their confessions implicated Mr. Lewis and, possibly, Mr. Bush. Should the government admit those confessions during a joint trial of Mr. Lewis and his lone remaining co-defendant, and if Messrs. Brown and Bluett were not subject to cross-examination, a joint trial would present a confrontation clause problem. See id.; see also United States v. Verduzco-Martinez, 186 F.3d 1208, 1212-13 (10th Cir. 1999).

         A good deal has transpired, however, since Mr. Lewis filed his motion back in January of this year. Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Bluett have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in Count I, a charge that also accuses Mr. Lewis of participating in the same conspiracy. As Mr. Lewis has acknowledged, the two guilty pleas largely eliminated Mr. Brown and Mr. Bluett's capacity to assert a Fifth Amendment privilege. See Doc. 148 at 89. In sum, a critical assumption of Mr. Lewis's Bruton argument is no longer viable.[2]

         Next, Mr. Lewis's initial motion argues that the government's evidence would produce undue prejudice. He bases this argument on discovery reports about the heroin overdose of a person named Nathaniel Brady. According to Mr. Lewis's motion, the government “has suggested” that his co-defendant, Mr. Bush, had supplied the heroin causing Mr. Brady's death.

         Evidence of Mr. Brady's death-if offered at trial against Mr. Bush but not against Mr. Lewis-could produce a “spillover effect” of the kind noted in United States v. Small, 423 F.3d 1164, 1182 (10th Cir. 2005). It likely would require the court to engage in the close evaluation outlined in Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539. But the court need not apply that analysis here. The government's original Response asserts that it is not planning to offer evidence about Mr. Brady's death at trial. Doc. 157 at 2. This representation obviates Mr. Lewis's concern because, without ...

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