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United States v. Bencomo-Diaz

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 26, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
1. GABRIEL BENCOMO-DIAZ, 2. RONNIE JACQUEZ, and 3. DIANE ROMERO, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO SEVER PARTIES

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Gabriel Bencomo-Diaz's Motion to Sever Parties (Doc. # 63). The Government responded on July 22, 2019. (Doc. # 80.) Having reviewed the pleadings, pertinent record, and applicable law, for the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an armed robbery that occurred in Pueblo, Colorado on August 10, 2018. (Doc. # 19.) Defendant Bencomo-Diaz was indicted on four counts relating to his alleged theft of a motor vehicle and role in an armed robbery of American Jewelry and Pawn during which he allegedly possessed and brandished a firearm. (Id. at 1-3.) After the robbery occurred, Co-Defendant Diane Romero allegedly “receive[d], relieve[d], comfort[ed] and assist[ed]” Defendants Bencomo-Diaz and Jacquez “in order to hinder and prevent [their] apprehension, trial, and punishment.” (Id. at 3.) As a result, Co-Defendant Romero was indicted on one count. (Id.)

         On July 8, 2019, Defendant Bencomo-Diaz moved to sever his trial from Co-Defendants Jacquez and Romero. (Doc. # 63.) However, the reasons for Defendant Bencomo-Diaz's Motion to Sever exclusively pertain to Co-Defendant Romero. (Id. at 2- 3.) Because Co-Defendant Romero allegedly made statements to law enforcement that inculpated Defendants Bencomo-Diaz and Jacquez, Defendant Bencomo-Diaz contends that his trial must be severed from the other Co-Defendants to avoid violation of his Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine Co-Defendants' statements. (Id. at 2.) Defendant Bencomo-Diaz does not identify any statements made by Co-Defendant Jacquez to law enforcement.

         On July 22, 2019, the Government filed its response to the Motion to Sever. (Doc. # 80.) The Government does not oppose the severance of Co-Defendant Romero from Defendant Bencomo-Diaz's trial. (Id. at 3, ¶ 4.) The Government opposes severance of Co-Defendant Jacquez because there is no risk of “actual prejudice” and joint trials of Defendants Bencomo-Diaz and Jacquez, both of whom were allegedly present at the robbery, would foster “economy and efficiency” and serve “the interests of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts.” (Id. at 2-3 (quoting Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 210 (1987)).)

         Notwithstanding Defendant Bencomo-Diaz's omission of any argument to the contrary, the Court agrees with the Government that Co-Defendant Jacquez's case should not be severed. For the following reasons, Co-Defendant Romero's case shall be severed from the joint trial of Defendants Bencomo-Diaz and Jacquez.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Joinder of defendants is governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 8(b), which provides that “[t]he indictment or information may charge [two] or more defendants if they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction, or in the same series of acts or transactions, constituting an offense . . . .” The underlying rationale of Rule 8(b) is to “balance the judicial efficiency inherent in group trials with fairness to the individual defendant[], whose case would be prejudiced if it were presented alongside those of defendants whose unrelated crimes could incite the passion of the jury against him.” United States v. B & H Maint. & Const., Inc., No. 07-cr-00090, 2008 WL 762246, at *3 (D. Colo. Mar. 19, 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “There is a preference in the federal system for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together, ” as joint trials “promote efficiency and ‘serve the interests of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts.'” Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 537 (1993) (quoting Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 210 (1987)). The general rule in this Circuit is to try together defendants who are jointly indicted. United States v. Rinke, 778 F.2d 581, 590 (10th Cir. 1985).

         However, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14 recognizes that joinder, even when permitted under Rule 8(b), may prejudice either a defendant or the government. Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 538. Rule 14(b) provides:

If the joinder of offenses or defendants in an indictment . . . 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.

         The decision to grant severance or provide other relief is vested in the sound discretion of the trial court, United States v. Hack, 782 F.2d 862, 870 (10th Cir. 1986), but the Supreme Court has instructed that “a district court should grant a severance under Rule 14 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, 506 U.S. at 539 (emphasis added).

         When ruling on a motion to sever, the Court “must weigh the prejudice caused by the joinder against considerations of economy and expedition in judicial administration.” Rinke, 778 F.2d at 590. The decision of whether to sever is a matter within the Court's sound discretion. United States v. Rogers, 652 F.2d 972, 976 (10th Cir. 1981).

         III. ...


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