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United States v. Rosario

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 4, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
IVAN ROSARIO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON PRETRIAL MOTIONS

          Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         Mr. Rosario is charged with three Counts related to this action: (1) conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 1 kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(i); (2) unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2); and (3) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) and 924(c)(2).[1] This decision addresses several pretrial motions for which the Court has already issued the following oral rulings: (1) Mr. Rosario's Motion to Impose a Sentence Without Regard to the Mandatory Minimum Sentence and to Charge the Jury on the Mandatory Minimum Sentence is DENIED; (2) Mr. Rosario's Motion to Sever or Bifurcate the Counts is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; and (3) Mr. Rosario's Motion to Preclude Video Recordings Disclosed on January 26, 2018 is DENIED. The Court now issues a written decision articulating more fully its reasons for these rulings.

         I. Motion to Impose a Sentence Without Regard to the Mandatory Minimum Sentence and to Charge the Jury on the Mandatory Minimum Sentence

         Defendant Rosario has asked the Court (1) to instruct the jury that the Defendant must impose the mandatory prison sentence; and/or (2) to sentence the Defendant without regard to the applicable mandatory minimum. The Court addresses each argument separately.

         A. Instructing the Jury

         Mr. Rosario argues that notwithstanding the “present state of the law, ” which “considers information regarding sentencing irrelevant to the jury's factfinding responsibility, ” the Court has and should exercise its authority to instruct the jury on the applicable mandatory minimum. [Dkt. 156 (MIL on Mandatory Min. re Jury Charge) at 2]. The Government responds “there is nothing about the prosecution of this matter that might plausibly justify” departure from the typical manner in which a jury is instructed to consider the evidence. [Dkt. 165 (MIL on Mandatory Min. Response) at 6 of PDF].

         A jury's role at trial is clearly defined: “to find the facts and to decide whether, on those facts, the defendant is guilty of the crime charged.” United States v. Shannon, 512 U.S. 573, 579 (1994). “The principle that juries are not to consider the consequences of their verdicts is a reflection of the basic division of labor in our legal system between judge and jury.” Id. Indeed, enabling jurors to consider information related to sentencing “invites them to ponder matters that are not within their province, distracts them from their factfinding responsibilities, and creates a strong possibility of confusion.” Id.

         A defendant does not have a Sixth Amendment right to a jury instruction on the defendant's mandatory minimum sentence. See United States v. Polouizzi, 564 F.3d 142, 160 (2d Cir. 2009) (determining district court erred when it concluded a defendant had such a Sixth Amendment right). However, a court may exercise its discretion to charge the jury on the mandatory minimum sentence when there exist circumstances warranting such a need. See Id. at 159 (“Far from prohibiting all instructions to the jury regarding the consequences of its verdict, these statements make clear that in some, albeit limited, circumstances it may be appropriate to instruct the jury regarding those consequences.”); see also United States v. Pabon-Cruz, 391 F.3d 86, 95 (2d Cir. 2005) (affirming conviction on the basis that the facts of the case did not require a jury instruction on his mandatory minimum sentence); Shannon, 512 U.S. at 587 (recognizing “that an instruction of some form may be necessary under certain limited circumstances”). An example is when a jury has been misled by counsel or a witness. See Id. at 587-88.

         At this time, there does not exist a reason to instruct the jury on Mr. Rosario's mandatory minimum sentences. To do so would certainly increase the risk that jurors would “ponder matters that are not within their province.” Shannon, 512 U.S. at 579. After failing to articulate a unique circumstance warranting a jury charge on a mandatory minimum sentence and after the Court's oral ruling declining to give such a charge, defense counsel has asked cooperating co-defendant witnesses questions suggesting that they are exposed to draconian sentences. The defense cannot create a unique circumstance in order to compel the Court to charge the jury on the issue of sentencing otherwise not called for.

         While Mr. Rosario believes an instruction on the mandatory minimums would “impress upon the jury the gravity of its duty, ” the Court does not believe knowledge of such gravity outweighs the risk of harm resulting from a juror's clouded judgment. A juror might hear a mandatory minimum instruction and out of compassion lean against convicting the defendant on account of the sentence length. But it is equally possible the jury instruction could motivate the juror to convict out of the juror's belief in rehabilitation, punishment, or any number of other principles related to the purpose of the criminal justice system. Either situation presents a problem, as the juror might make a determination from the heart rather than from the mind. As the United States Supreme Court so aptly put it, “[w]hether the instruction works to the advantage or disadvantage of the defendant is, of course, somewhat beside the point.” Shannon, 512 U.S. at 586. Here, there is no reason to bring advantages and disadvantages into the fold. The Court will stay true to the foundational principle that the jury is responsible for sifting through facts and determining Mr. Rosario's guilt.

         To the extent Mr. Rosario argues that failing to instruct the jury on the applicable mandatory minimums would be misleading, he cites no cases in which such an instruction has been found misleading and no cases in which a court's instruction on mandatory minimums has been upheld. This Court can see no basis for the jury to be misled if it hears nothing about sentencing other than the fact that it is within the province of the Court and they should not concern themselves with it. There is a presumption that juries follow the instructions given to them by the judge. Thus, having been told to disregard sentencing, Defendant has not identified any reason why the jury could become confused or be misled.

         Even if such an instruction is misleading, because the Court is prohibited from encouraging nullification, and an instruction on mandatory minimums might encourage nullification, it would seem a safer course to alter or remove the potentially misleading statement rather than to include a colloquy on mandatory minimums. See Polouizzi, 564 F.3d at 161-62 (citing United States v. Thomas, 116 F.3d 606, 616 (2d Cir. 1997)). For these reasons and the reasons stated at the hearing, this motion is DENIED.

         B. Sentencing Below the Mandatory Minimum

         Defendant also argues that mandatory minimum sentences are unconstitutional because they violate the separation of powers doctrine, and he relies largely on law review articles and cases in which judge have imposed mandatory minimums while complaining about their obligation to do so. The Government rests largely on its arguments related to the jury charge issue, but it also argues that this issue is not ripe for ...


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