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United States v. Davis

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 19, 2017

6. BRADEN DAVIES, 7. SYED I. SHAH Defendants.


          William J. Martínez United States District Judge.

         Now before the Court in this drug conspiracy and money laundering case is the Joint Motion to Sever filed by Defendants Braden Davies (“Davies”) and Syed I. Shah (“Shah”) (together, “Defendants”). (ECF No. 195.) For the reasons explained below, the Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Government initiated this case in 2014, charging 24 counts against eight alleged co-conspirators. In general terms, the Government alleges that co-Defendant Daniel Fernandez, working with co-conspirators, sent controlled substances from Canada to Colorado for sale, and engaged in a related conspiracy to launder the proceeds of those drug sales by depositing them into bank accounts in Canada that were controlled by various co-conspirators, including Davies and Shah, who would, in turn, withdraw the funds and deliver them to Fernandez, less a “commission.”

         Davies and Shah are not charged with any acts of drug distribution, only money laundering. Specifically, Count 2 charges Davies and Shah with conspiracy to commit money laundering, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), by engaging in financial transactions designed to conceal the proceeds of drug distribution. In addition, Davies is charged in Count 9 with a single transaction in violation of §§ 1956(a)(1)(B) & 2, occurring on or about May 21, 2013, and Shah is charged in Count 18 with a violation of §§ 1956(a)(1)(B) & 2 occurring on or about February 17, 2014. Beyond these charged transactions, the Government claims its evidence will show Shah engaged in a total of 19 money laundering transactions between July 2011 and February 2014, including 18 uncharged transactions preceding the one charged. (ECF No. 202 at 8.) The Government likewise claims Davies committed four additional, uncharged, acts of money laundering, all in 2013. (Id. at 8-9.)

         This case terminated as to Defendants Solan, Melgar-Recinos, and Wortman in 2015, after they appeared, entered plea agreements, and were sentenced. (See ECF Nos. 80, 113, 116, 106, 143, 145.) However, Davies, Shah, and other co-defendants who are residents of Canada have been involved in lengthy extradition proceedings. These led to Davies and Shah being arrested and arraigned earlier this year. They are now set for a joint trial, and argue they should be tried separately. (ECF No. 195.)[1]


         Defendants argue for severance pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14. (See ECF No. 195.) The relevant portion of Rule 14 provides: “If the joinder of offenses or defendants . . . appears to prejudice a defendant or the government, the court may order separate trials of counts, sever the defendants' trials, or provide any other relief that justice requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a).[2]

         The Court “should grant a severance . . . only if there is a serious risk that a joint trial would compromise a specific trial right of one of the defendants, or prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or innocence.” Zafiro v United States, 506 U.S. 534, 539 (1993); United States v. Williams, 45 F.3d 1481, 1484 (10th Cir. 1995). A showing of potential prejudice is not enough to require separate trials, recognizing the public interest in economy and expedition in judicial administration. United States v. Dirden, 38 F.3d 1131, 1140 (10th Cir. 1994). “There is a preference in the federal system for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together.” Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 537.

         The Supreme Court has recognized that the “risk of prejudice will vary with the facts in each case, ” and the decision whether to grant a motion to sever has long rested within the discretion of the district court. Id. at 539; see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 14, Advisory Committee Notes to 1944 Adoption (Rule 14 re-states “existing law under which severance . . . is entirely in the discretion of the court”).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants argue that each of them will be unfairly prejudiced by the “spillover effect” of having evidence related to the other defendant introduced in a joint trial; that the jury may “cumulate evidence” improperly, drawing inferences of guilt that are impermissible under Federal Rules of Evidence 403 & 404(b); and that a joint trial would thus permit a conviction despite lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

         These arguments might carry more weight if these Defendants, charged with only money laundering, were facing a joint trial with Defendant Fernandez, who was allegedly the supplier and leader of the international drug conspiracy charged in the Indictment, and charged in nearly all its 24 Counts. Davies and Shah, however, both allegedly functioned in equivalent capacities within the charged money laundering conspiracy, and with a similar level of alleged culpability. Their arguments do not show that severance is warranted, given the present two-defendant trial set only for Davies and Shah.

         Initially, the Court does not find that the comparatively minor disparity between the 19 transactions in which Shah allegedly participated and the 5 transactions in which Davies allegedly participated rises to the level of “markedly different degrees of culpability” which may contribute to prejudice that warrants severance. See Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539. “The mere fact . . . that one co-defendant is less culpable ...

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