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United States v. Jackson

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi

July 14, 2017




         Defendant Ladarius E. Jackson requests a severance of the trial of this matter from that of his co-defendant, Rickey Robertson, as well as the severance of his alleged offenses from the Indictment. The Government has responded, Jackson has replied, and this issue is now ripe.

         Law and Analysis

         Generally, a motion to sever requires a court to undertake two distinct inquiries: (1) whether initial joinder was proper under Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; and (2) if initial joinder was proper, whether severance should be granted under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(a). See United States v. McRae, 702 F.3d 806, 820-22 (5th Cir. 2012).

         A. Rule 8 Joinder

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permits the charging document to charge a defendant in separate counts with two or more offenses that 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). Rule 8(b) additionally allows defendants to be charged together “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 or offenses.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(b).

         In the case at bar, the four-count Indictment alleges in Count 1 that both Rickey Robertson and Ladarius E. Jackson conspired to commit sex trafficking pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 1591(a)(1) and (b)(1), by using force, threats of force, fraud, and coercion to cause the Victims to engage in commercial sex action. The “Manner and Means” section outlines that both defendants targeted vulnerable adult females in the Memphis, Tennessee area to engage in commercial sex acts and provided money, food, and other things of value to the Victims in exchange for their performance of commercial sex acts. The Indictment alleges that both Defendants “used violence and the threat of violence to prevent Victim 1 and Victim 2 from escaping their commercial sex operation.” The “Overt Acts” section lists allegations that Rickey Robertson physically assaulted Victim 1, put a gun to her head, and threatened to kill her and her child if she attempted to leave. That section further outlines actions alleged to have been taken by Robertson and Jackson to further advertise the criminal activity and to transport the Victims from Memphis, Tennessee, to Oxford, Mississippi. Count 2 is alleged only against Rickey Robertson for engaging in sex trafficking from January 2015 until December 2015. Count 3 alleges that both defendants transported Victims in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution on December 14, 2015, and Count 4 alleges the same transportation to engage in prostitution for December 31, 2015.

         A review of the Indictment in this case reveals joinder of the Counts in the Indictment and joinder of the Co-Defendants was appropriate in this case. Count 1 alleges a conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and the remaining three counts constitute the “same act or transaction, or series of acts or transactions, constituting an offense or offenses.” Pursuant to Rule 8, the joinder of Defendants and counts is appropriate.

         B. Rule 14 Severance

         Jackson further seeks relief under Rule 14. Defendant Jackson contends that his inclusion on this Indictment is an attempt by the Government to “overcharge” him, as he is not alleged to have violated Sections 1591(b)(1), which carries a statutory minimum penalty of fifteen years. He also contends that because he has not been alleged to have committed at least one of the overt acts, he could not actually be guilty of conspiracy. Additionally, Jackson contends he will be “hopelessly and irremediably prejudiced by association if forced to stand trial alongside the alleged perpetrator of Count Two and of the acts recited in Count One's ‘manner and means, ' and ‘overt acts.'” Finally, Jackson claims that if tried together with his co-defendant, he will be denied valuable exculpatory testimony from his co-defendant.

         Rule 14(a) provides,

If the joinder of offenses or defendants in an indictment, an information, or a consolidation for trial 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.

         Notwithstanding this rule, “[t]here is a preference in the federal system for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together.” Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 537, 113 S.Ct. 933, 122 L.Ed.2d 317 (1993); United States v. Pettigrew, 77 F.3d 1500, 1517 (5th Cir. 1996). Accordingly, “[i]t is the rule, . . . not the exception, that persons indicted together should be tried together, especially in conspiracy cases.” McRae, 702 F.3d at 821 (internal quotation marks omitted). In light of the general preference for a single trial, “[t]o warrant severance under Rule 14, the burden is upon the defendant to show clear prejudice.” United States v. Welch, 656 F.2d 1039, 1053 (5th Cir. 1981). This prejudice must outweigh the government's interest in judicial economy, United States v. Ballis, 28 F.3d 1399, 1408 (5th Cir. 1994), and must be incurable through jury instructions or other means, Welch, 656 F.2d at 1054.

         i. ...

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