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United States v. Blatchford

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 7, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Brandyn Paul Blatchford, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable G. Murray Snow, Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Brandyn Blatchford's Motion to Sever, (Doc. 41). For the following reasons, the Court denies the Defendant's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         In the early hours of April 6, 2016, Brandyn Blatchford (“Blatchford”) was arrested on suspicion of having attacked his friend, RW, with a hammer.[1] As a result of the injury, RW sustained significant injuries to his head. Blatchford was eventually charged with assault with a dangerous weapon as well as assault resulting in serious bodily injury. After his arrest, it was discovered that Blatchford had a prior criminal history as a sex offender. His status as a sex offender required him to register as such. However, it appeared that Blatchford's listed address on the registry was not his actual address. Blatchford faced additional charges due to his alleged failure to register, specifically failure to register as a sex offender and committing an act of violence while failing to register as a sex offender.

         These charges were joined together in a single superseding indictment: Count One alleges that Blatchford committed assault with a dangerous weapon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3), Count Two alleges that he committed assault resulting in serious bodily injury in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6), Count Three alleges that he failed to register as a sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250, and Count Four alleges that he committed a crime of violence while an unregistered sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(c).

         DISCUSSION

         A. The Counts Against the Defendant are Properly Joined Under Rule 8(a)

         Joinder of charges against a defendant is proper “if the offenses charged-whether felonies or misdemeanors or both-are of the same or similar character, or are based on the same act or transaction, or are connected with or constitute parts of a common scheme or plan.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(a). A court looks only to the indictment to determine if joinder is proper. See United States v. Jawara, 474 F.3d 565, 572-73 (9th Cir. 2007) (“[T]he established rule in this circuit is that a valid basis for joinder should be discernible from the face of the indictment, and we remain faithful to that principle here.”).

         “At least one of Rule 8(a)'s three conditions must be satisfied for proper joinder, and those conditions, although phrased in general terms, are not infinitely elastic.” Id. at 573 (internal quotation and citation omitted). However, “[t]ransaction is a word of flexible meaning. It may comprehend a series of many occurrences, depending not so much upon the immediateness of their connection as upon their logical relationship.” United States v. Friedman, 445 F.2d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir. 1971) (quoting Moore v. N.Y. Cotton Exch., 270 U.S. 593, 610 (1926)). Generally, “[w]hen the joined counts are logically related, and there is a large area of overlapping proof, joinder is appropriate.” United States v. Anderson, 642 F.2d 281, 284 (9th Cir. 1981).

         Blatchford is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3), assault resulting in serious bodily injury in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6), failure to register as a sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250, and committing a crime of violence while an unregistered sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(c).[2] The “crime of violence” alleged in Count Four is premised on the same criminal activity that forms the basis of the assault charges. (Doc. 34 at 3.) Additionally, the failure to register charge in Count Three is based upon the same failure to register charge in Count Four. (Doc. 34 at 2-3.) There is a “large area of overlapping proof” amongst these charges that justifies joining the offenses under Rule 8(a) because each charge is premised upon the same series of actions allegedly undertaken by Blatchford. Anderson, 642 F.2d at 284. Therefore, these charges are properly joined under Rule 8(a).

         B. As Discussed with the Parties the Court Shall Consider Bifurcation

         Rule 14(a) provides relief for defendants where the joinder of offenses “appears to prejudice a defendant or the government.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a). The court has wide discretion in determining whether relief is necessary under Rule 14, and also possesses wide discretion in determining the form the relief should take. See Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 538-39 (1993) (“Moreover, Rule 14 does not require severance even if prejudice is shown; rather, it leaves the tailoring of the relief to be granted, if any, to the district court's sound discretion.”). In such an instance, “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).

         It is the defendant's burden to establish that severance is necessary, and severance is only required where joinder is “so manifestly prejudicial that it outweigh[es] the dominant concern with judicial economy and compel[s] the exercise of the court's discretion to sever.” United States v. Lopez, 477 F.3d 1110, 1116-17 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal citation and quotation omitted). Therefore, the existence of some prejudice is not sufficient to require severance. Rather, severance is only necessary in those rare cases where a jury cannot “reasonably be expected to compartmentalize the evidence so that evidence of one crime does not taint the jury's consideration of another crime.” United States v. Johnson, 820 F.2d 1065, 1071 (9th Cir. 1987) (internal quotation omitted); see also United States v. Vasquez-Velasco, 15 F.3d 833, 846 (9th Cir. 1994) (“In assessing whether joinder was prejudicial, of foremost importance is whether the evidence as it relates to the individual defendants is easily compartmentalized.”). Such prejudice is more likely to exist where the counts joined together are “similar in nature.” Id. However, prejudice may be mitigated through the use of proper jury instructions. See Johnson, 820 F.2d at 1071 (upholding a district court's decision not to sever counts where the court instructed the jury that “[e]ach count charges a separate crime. You must decide separately what the evidence in the case shows about the crime”). Prejudice is also lessened where the joined charges are wholly separate incidents, and thus permit the jury to separate the charges from each other. See Vasquez-Velasco, 15 F.3d at 846 (finding that even where the crimes committed were similar in nature, their joinder was not prejudicial because each charge occurred a week from the other, and “[a]s such, they were discrete acts that a jury could compartmentalize reasonably easily”).

         In the case at hand, Blatchford argues that Counts One and Two must be severed from Counts Three and Four because the evidence of his past sex offense conviction would unduly prejudice him. (Doc. 41.) Blatchford cites to United States v. Nguyen, 88 F.3d 812 (9th Cir. 1996), to support this argument, but in Nguyen, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court's decision not to sever the counts against the defendant. Id. at 818. The Ninth Circuit did caution that “trying a felon in possession count together with other felony charges creates a very dangerous situation because the jury might improperly consider the evidence of a prior conviction when deliberating about the other felony charges.” Id. at 815. However, more recently, the Ninth Circuit emphasized that where “[e]ach of the alleged offenses arose from the same act or transaction, and there was significant overlap in the evidence for all charges, ” concerns for judicial economy “outweigh[ed] any limited prejudice that [the defendant] ...


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