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United States v. Young

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 11, 2015

United States of America,
Montrease Young, Defendant.



Defendant, Montrease Young, along with her coconspirators, has been indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Financial Institution Fraud and Identity Theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 and 18 U.S.C. § 1028(f). Defendant filed a motion to suppress her oral and written statements to law enforcement officials investigating this matter, which the Court has denied. Defendant now asks the Court, pursuant to Rule 14(a), to sever her trial from that of her codefendant, Alexis Young. Two other codefendants, Chavonne Jackson and Angela Young, have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

In advancing her argument to sever, Defendant relies on four separate arguments. First, Defendant asserts that her codefendants' testimony will violate her rights under the Confrontation Clause as described in Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968). Next, Defendant maintains that the differences in culpability between her and her codefendants are so great that it impairs her right to a fair trial. Third, Defendant asserts that she and her codefendants have mutually antagonistic defenses, such that the "acceptance of one defendant's defense will preclude the acquittal of the other defendant. United States v. Carillo, 435 F.2d 767, 778 (7th Cir. 2006). Finally, Defendant asserts that the codefendants adverse position to her creates the issue of multiple prosecutors.

A. Background

Defendant and her codefendants, Angela Young, Alexis Young, and Chavonne Jackson, were indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Financial Institution Fraud and Identity Theft. Angela Young was also charged with additional related counts including: aggravated identity theft, wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information, and unlawful use and disclosure of social security numbers. The basic gist of their criminal conspiracy was that Angela Young would steal personally identifiable information and social security numbers from her employer, a health care provider, and then use that information to open fraudulent lines of credit. Based on the Indictment, the conspiracy resulted in the opening of almost thirty lines of credit using the stolen personal information.

Defendant's own statement to investigators describes her role within the conspiracy. Defendant met an unindicted coconspirator at Alexis Young's residence who later contacted Defendant and asked if she would accept packages at her home. Defendant stated that there would be no questions asked regarding the packages. (DE 113-2, Ex. B, at 1.) Defendant also admits to receiving money from her codefendants as well as gifts for her daughter. ( Id. ) Defendant does assert in her written statement that she never opened any lines of credit or used an improperly attained credit card. ( Id. at 2.)

B. Defendant's Arguments for Severance

As stated above, Defendant has put forth four primary arguments in favor of severance. The government's response to all of these arguments is two-pronged. First, the government maintains that none of these issues are so significant that they overcome the need for judicial and prosecutorial efficiency. Second, the government argues that any potential prejudice can be cured by proper limiting instructions and admonitions to the jury.

(1) Bruton Standard

In Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), the Court found that a defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated by the admission of a codefendants confession. The Court recognized that joinder of defendants is the general practice in order "to promote economy and efficiency and to avoid a multiplicity of trials, where these objectives can be achieved without substantial prejudice to the right of the defendants to a fair trial." Id. at 131, n.6. Nevertheless, Rule 14 authorizes a severance where it appears a defendant might be prejudiced by a joint trial. In Bruton, the Court found that a defendant could be prejudiced by the confession of a codefendant, that this prejudice cannot be dispelled by cross-examination if the codefendant does not take the stand, and a limiting instruction to the jury may be insufficient. Id. at 132.

Not every admission by a codefendant is covered by Bruton. For instance, in United States v. Volpendesto, 746 F.3d 273 (7th Cir. 2014), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that an admission by one codefendant that did not specifically implicate any codefendants in criminal conduct, was not sufficient for Bruton to apply. This ruling relied upon Richardson v. Marsh, where the Supreme Court examined whether Bruton applied when "the codefendant's confession is redacted to omit any reference to the defendant, but the defendant is nonetheless linked to the confession by evidence properly admitted against him at trial." 481 U.S. 200, 202 (1987). In Marsh, the Court reasoned that the confession was not "powerfully incriminating" and only incriminated a codefendant "when linked with evidence later introduced at trial." Id. at 208. The Court eventually held that "the Confrontation Clause is not violated by the admission of a nontestifying codefendant's confession with a proper limiting instruction when, as here, the confession is redacted to eliminate not only the defendant's name, but any reference to his or her existence." Id. at 211.

(2) Differences in Culpability

Defendant's next rationale for severance is that she is much less culpable than her codefendants. To bolster this argument, Defendant maintains that a majority of credit card applications were for the benefit of Alexis Young and were completed at Alexis Young's residence. And, as stated previously, Angela Young was the codefendant who obtained all of the personal information used to open the fraudulent lines of credit. Defendant also asserts, albeit incorrectly, that there is no direct evidence implicating her. Defendant's statement to investigators outlines her agreement to accept packages as well as the tangible gain she enjoyed as a result of this agreement.

This argument is based on the theory that "evidence of a codefendant's wrongdoing in some circumstances erroneously could lead a jury to conclude that a defendant was guilty." Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 539 (1993). This concept is similar to the theories espoused in Bruton. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has indicated that when many defendants are tried together in a complex case and they have markedly different degrees of ...

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