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United States v. Lockhart

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

August 10, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JESSE LAMONT LOCKHART, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Arenda L. Wright Allen, United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Jesse Lamont Lockhart's Motion for Severance of Counts Three and Four of the Superseding Indictment (ECF No. 28). Because joinder is proper and Defendant fails to show that he would suffer any undue prejudice, Defendant's Motion to Sever is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 11, 2017, Defendant was named in a two-count Indictment arising from an alleged armed robbery of an Exxon gas station and convenience store in March 2016. See Indictment (ECF No. 12). In the course of that robbery, the Government alleges that Defendant brandished and pointed a firearm at an Exxon convenience store employee. See Id. Count One charged Defendant with Interference with Commerce by Robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). See Id. at 1-2. Count Two charged Defendant with Brandishing a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence, in violation 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). See Id. at 3. The Norfolk Federal Public Defender's Office was appointed to represent Defendant after his arrest on these charges.

         A Superseding Indictment was filed on May 18, 2017, charging Defendant with two additional offenses that arise from his alleged actions while he was detained pending trial. See Superseding Indictment (ECF No. 22). Count Three charges him with Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1503, 1512. See Id. at 4-7. Count Four charges him with Obstruction of Justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503(c). See Id. at 8. These counts allege that Defendant and a co-conspirator (his mother) provided false evidence to the Government by arranging to surrender an airsoft pistol replica of the gun he is charged with brandishing. See Id. at 4-8. The Government asserts that because an airsoft pistol does not meet the definition of "firearm" specified in the brandishing statute, 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3), Defendant allegedly produced the airsoft pistol to evade a conviction for brandishing. The Superseding Indictment charges that these alleged acts constitute obstruction of justice. See id.

         As a result of these alleged events, the Federal Public Defender withdrew from representing Defendant and a new attorney was appointed to represent him in this matter. See Mot. Withdraw (ECF No. 19); see also Withdraw Resp. (ECF No. 20). A jury trial on all four counts is scheduled to begin on September 26, 2017.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 8(a)

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 8(a) governs the joinder of offenses in a single indictment or information. Joinder is permissible if the offenses are: (1) "of the same or similar character;" (2) "based on the same act or transaction;" or (3) "connected with or constitute parts of a common scheme or plan." Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(a). Courts "interpret the second and third alternative prongs of this rule 'flexibly, requiring that the joined offenses have a logical relationship to one another.'" United States v. McLaurin, 764 F.3d 372, 385 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. Cardwell, 433 F.3d 378, 385 (4th Cir. 2005)).

         Offenses have a logical relationship for Rule 8(a) purposes '"when consideration of discrete counts against the defendant paints an incomplete picture of the defendant's criminal enterprise.'" Id. (quoting Cardwell, 433 F.3d at 385). "Rule 8(a) permits 'very broad joinder, ' 'because the prospect of duplicating witness testimony, impaneling additional jurors, and wasting limited judicial resources suggests that related offenses should be tried in a single proceeding."' United States v. Hawkins, 116 F.3d 200, 206 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Mackins, 315 F.3d 399, 412 (4th Cir. 2003)); see also United States v. Mir, 525 F.3d 351, 357 (4th Cir. 2008)).

         B. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(a)

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(a) states that "if the joinder of offenses ... in an indictment. . . appears to prejudice a defendant or the government, the court may order separate trials of counts ...." Courts consider three possible sources of prejudice in this inquiry:

(1) the jury may believe that a person charged with a large number of offenses has a criminal disposition, and as a result may cumulate the evidence against him or her or perhaps lessen the presumption of innocence;
(2) evidence of guilt on one count may "spillover" to other counts, and lead to a conviction on those other counts even though the spillover evidence would have been inadmissible at a separate trial; and
(3) [the] defendant may wish to testify in his or her own defense on one charge ...

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