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United States v. Pitt

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 26, 2019




         Kari A. Dooley, United States District Judge Pending before the Court are three motions to sever filed by defendants Luis Pitt (“Pitt”), Pedro Carillo (“P. Carillo”), and Josue Franco (“Franco”) in this multi-defendant prosecution for Kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a), and Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(c). (ECF Nos. 115, 124, 145.) For the reasons set forth in this decision, the Motions to Sever are DENIED.

         Factual Allegations[1] and Procedural History

         In brief, the Government alleges that the five defendants - Pitt, Jonathan Otero (“Otero”), P. Carillo, Anthony Carillo (“A. Carillo”), and Franco - (collectively, the “Defendants”) are members of the Almighty Latin King Nation (“Latin Kings”). The Defendants allegedly conspired to kidnap, hold for ransom, and expel the alleged victim (“Victim A”)[2] from the Latin Kings because of the nature of one of his prior convictions.

         To effectuate this plan, Franco and A. Carillo allegedly lured Victim A to Pitt's apartment under the pretext of smoking marijuana on January 26, 2018. Upon arriving at Pitt's apartment, Victim A found Pitt, Otero, and two other individuals waiting inside. After one of the individuals left the apartment, A. Carillo began questioning Victim A concerning his criminal history while Pitt attempted to access Victim A's criminal history using a tablet device. Over time, the questioning became increasingly violent, with Pitt, Otero, A. Carillo, and Franco beating Victim A. At one point, the defendants who were present called P. Carillo, who is alleged to be the current leader of the Latin Kings in Hartford, to discuss the matter. Sometime thereafter, P. Carillo arrived at the apartment with other unknown males. Prior to P. Carillo's arrival, Victim A perceived Pitt to be in charge. After P. Carillo and the other unknown males arrived, they continued to assault Victim A over the course of what Victim A estimates was multiple hours. The perpetrators later instructed Victim A to call someone to obtain money in exchange for his release. These ransom negotiations ultimately ended when Victim A persuaded his captors to let him go to his place of employment to obtain the ransom money. Once inside, Victim A collapsed and reported the incident to the employees, who called 911.

         On October 2, 2018, a grand jury returned an indictment charging the five defendants, in relevant part, in Count One with Kidnapping and in Count Two with Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping.[3] Previously, Otero and Franco moved to sever their cases because Pitt gave a post-arrest statement to law enforcement in which he admitted to seeing Victim A at his apartment with some of the Defendants on January 26, 2018. On March 20, 2019, the Court denied the motions without prejudice because the Government represented that it did not intend to use Pitt's statements in its case-in-chief.

         On May 3, 2019, Otero filed a pro se motion seeking to dismiss his court appointed counsel and represent himself. After a Faretta hearing, [4] the Court provided Otero with additional time to consider whether he wished to proceed pro se or receive substitute counsel. On May 13, 2019, Otero reiterated, via motion, his desire to proceed pro se. After another Faretta hearing, the Court granted the motion to proceed pro se and appointed new standby counsel. Since then, Otero has filed several discovery-related motions, a motion to disqualify the undersigned, which was denied, and a motion to dismiss the Indictment, which remains pending. These latter two motions derive from a purported speedy trial violation in connection with the scheduling of trial.

         On July 28, 2019 and August 5, 2019, respectively, Pitt and P. Carillo moved to sever their trials from their co-defendants. On August 12, 2019, P. Carillo further moved to continue the trial date based on a scheduling conflict that has arisen for his defense counsel. The Court denied the motion to continue without prejudice at a status conference on August 20, 2019. On August 23, 2019, Franco filed a motion joining in P. Carillo's motion to sever.

         Legal Standard

         Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permits severance of properly joined defendants, at the discretion of the trial court, to avoid prejudice to a defendant or the government. Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a). Nevertheless, there is a strong and well-settled preference that defendants who are indicted together should be tried together. Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 537 (1993); United States v. Feyrer, 333 F.3d 110, 114 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 209 (1987) (“Joint trials play a vital role in the criminal justice system”). “This preference is particularly strong where . . . the defendants are alleged to have participated in a common plan or scheme.” United States v. Salameh, 152 F.3d 88, 115 (2d Cir. 1998); see also United States v. Cardascia, 951 F.2d 474, 482 (2d Cir. 1991). As the Supreme Court has explained:

It would impair both the efficiency and the fairness of the criminal justice system to require . . . that prosecutors bring separate proceedings, presenting the same evidence again and again, requiring victims and witnesses to repeat the inconvenience (and sometimes trauma) of testifying, and randomly favoring the last-tried defendants who have the advantage of knowing the prosecution's case beforehand. . . . Even apart from these tactical considerations, joint trials generally serve the interests of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts.

Richardson, 481 U.S. at 210.

         A defendant claiming prejudice by joinder must demonstrate prejudice that is “sufficiently severe [as] to outweigh the judicial economy that would be realized by avoiding lengthy multiple trials.” United States v. Lanza, 790 F.2d 1015, 1019 (2d Cir. 1986) (quoting United States v. Panza, 750 F.2d 1141, 1149 (2d Cir. 1984)). District courts have wide discretion in deciding whether to sever trials, and a defendant seeking review of denial of severance under Rule 14 bears an ...

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