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United States v. Chambers

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 4, 2019

UNITED STATES
v.
ERIC CHAMBERS

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE: THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR DISCLOSURE OF THE GOVERNMENT'S LEGAL INSTRUCTIONS TO THE GRAND JURY [ECF NO. 103]

          KARI A. DOOLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Kari A. Dooley, United States District Judge Pending before this Court is defendant Eric Chambers's (the “Defendant” or “Chambers”) motion for disclosure of the Government's legal instructions to the grand jury. This case arises out of a string of robberies allegedly committed by Chambers and his co-defendant, Jachim Brown, in Bridgeport and Stratford, Connecticut in 2017. In the second superseding indictment, Chambers is charged with aiding and abetting Brown in the commission of six Hobbs Act robberies[1] or attempted Hobbs Act robberies. The Defendant seeks disclosure of the grand jury instructions on the ground that the Government might not have properly instructed the grand jury concerning the specific intent element of aiding and abetting. If he is correct, he argues, he could seek a dismissal of the indictment. The Defendant has failed to demonstrate a particularized need for the Government's legal instructions to the grand jury and, therefore, his motion for disclosure is DENIED.

         Procedural Background

         On April 19, 2018, the grand jury returned an indictment, charging Chambers with aiding and abetting Brown in the commission of five Hobbs Act robberies and attempted Hobbs Act robberies. On September 20, 2018, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment, which added charges against Chambers and Brown related to two more Hobbs Act robberies.

         On January 4, 2019, the parties selected a jury. On January 11, 2019, the Defendant moved to dismiss the superseding indictment. The gravamen of the Defendant's motion to dismiss was that the superseding indictment failed to charge all of the essential elements of Hobbs Act robbery, and aiding and abetting, because it did not explicitly allege that Brown and Chambers acted knowingly and willfully.

         The Court convened a hearing on the motion to dismiss on January 16, 2019. At the outset of the hearing, the Court (Underhill, J.)[2] noted that one of the selected jurors had already been excused due to a conflict and that a second juror would be excused for cause. Turning to the motion to dismiss, the Court expressed concern as to whether the superseding indictment adequately apprised the grand jury that Chambers was charged only as an aider and abettor. The Government represented that the grand jury was instructed on the knowing element of aiding and abetting and that it presented its theory of the case against Chambers, which involved an aiding and abetting theory of liability, to the grand jury. Finally, the Government argued that the indictment comported with Second Circuit precedent. The Court acknowledged that the Government might be correct but stated that it would be prudent for the Government to seek another superseding indictment, to make it clear that Chambers was being charged as an aider and abettor and that he acted knowingly. The Court also identified other practical reasons to proceed in this fashion. The Government agreed to seek a superseding indictment, recognizing that there is “no harm in clearing up this issue before trial.” The Defendant similarly agreed to this approach. Thereafter, the first jury was released.

         On January 24, 2019, a grand jury returned a second superseding indictment, charging Chambers with aiding and abetting Brown in the commission of six Hobbs Act robberies or attempted Hobbs Act robberies. Unlike the prior indictments, the second superseding indictment alleged that Brown and Chambers “did, and knowingly aided and abetted each other to, unlawfully and knowingly take and obtain the property” of the relevant commercial establishments. On February 8, 2019, the Defendant filed the instant motion for disclosure of the Government's legal instructions to the grand jury, raising the issue of whether the Government adequately instructed the grand jury on the specific intent element of aiding and abetting.

         Legal Standard

         It has long been recognized that “the proper functioning of our grand jury system depends upon the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.” Douglas Oil Co. of Cal. v. Petrol Stops Nw., 441 U.S. 211, 218 (1979); see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2). Disclosure of grand jury proceedings is permitted in certain limited circumstance, however, including upon a showing that a “ground may exist to dismiss the indictment because of a matter that occurred before the grand jury.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(3)(E)(ii). Because “a presumption of regularity attaches to grand jury proceedings”; United States v. Leung, 40 F.3d 577, 581 (2d Cir. 1994); “a defendant seeking the disclosure of grand jury materials bears a heavy burden”; United States v. Schlegel, 687 Fed.Appx. 26, 30 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order), cert. denied sub nom. Hatfield v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 182 (2017). He must demonstrate that he has a “particularized need” for the grand jury materials at issue. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. v. United States, 360 U.S. 395, 400 (1959); United States v. Moten, 582 F.2d 654, 662 (2d Cir. 1978); United States v. Smith, 105 F.Supp.3d 255, 259 (W.D.N.Y. 2015). “A party makes a showing of particularized need by proving ‘that the material they seek is needed to avoid a possible injustice in another judicial proceeding, that the need for disclosure is greater than the need for continued secrecy, and that their request is structured to cover only material so needed.'” In re Grand Jury Subpoena, 103 F.3d 234, 239 (2d Cir.1996) (quoting Douglas Oil Co. of Cal., 441 U.S. at 222).

         Although the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has not squarely addressed the issue, “courts within the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have consistently held that obtaining grand jury instructions requires a showing of particularized need.” Smith, 105 F.Supp.3d at 259 (collecting cases); see also United States v. Faltine, No. 13-cr-00315 (KAM), 2014 WL 4370811, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 2, 2014) (“a ‘defendant is not routinely entitled to grand jury . . . instructions in order to engage in a fishing expedition in hopes of uncovering an impropriety or defect in the proceeding where he has no basis to conclude that an impropriety or defect exists.'”) (quoting United States v. Abounnajah, No. 91-cr-00146, 1991 WL 42895, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 1991)). The Defendant contends that “these cases are wrong” and urges this Court to follow precedent from courts in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, [3] which has adopted a relaxed disclosure rule for ministerial grand jury materials, including grand jury instructions. United States v. Alter, 482 F.2d 1016, 1029 n.21 (9th Cir. 1973) (“The proceedings before the grand jury are secret, but the ground rules by which the grand jury conducts those proceedings are not.”); United States v. Belton, No. 14-cr-00030 (JST), 2015 WL 1815273, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 21, 2015) (“The legal instructions given to the grand jury regarding the charges on which they are deliberating are a part of the ‘ground rules' by which the grand jury conducts its proceedings.”) (collecting cases); cf. In re Grand Jury Subpoena, 103 F.3d at 239 (“The law of this circuit is clear that, once a proceeding falls under Rule 6(e), it receives a presumption of secrecy and closure.”).

         The Court is not persuaded that such a relaxed approach adequately protects the long-recognized goals of grand jury secrecy. See In re Grand Jury Subpoena, 103 F.3d at 237. Indeed, “[legal] instructions [given to the Grand Jury] . . ., or the existence of such instructions goes to the substance of the charge being laid before the Grand Jury as well as how the Grand Jury is to proceed regarding the type and manner of produced evidence before the panel.” United States v. Larson, No. 07-cr-00304-S (HBS), 2012 WL 4112026, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 18, 2012). Accordingly, affording these instructions the same level of secrecy as other grand jury materials is, in this Court's view, appropriate.

         Discussion

         The Defendant contends that a particularized need exists for disclosure of the grand jury instructions because there is reason to believe that the grand jury was not properly instructed concerning the element of specific intent. If that is true, the Defendant contends, he might be entitled to a dismissal of the second superseding indictment.

         The Defendant offers four reasons to question the accuracy of the Government's legal instructions to the grand jury: (1) the Government's first two indictments failed to allege that Chambers acted “knowingly”; (2) the second superseding indictment does not allege that Chambers acted with the specific intent that the robberies succeed; (3) the Government's purportedly inaccurate proposed jury instructions on the charge of ...


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