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United States v. Ricks

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 27, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DAVONTAY K. RICKS

          RULING

          SHELLY D. DICK JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for James Hearing[1] filed by Defendant, Davontay K. Ricks (“Ricks”). The Government has filed an Opposition[2]opposing Ricks' request for a James hearing. For the following reasons, the Court denies the request to hold a James hearing prior to trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Ricks was indicted along with three other defendants for conspiracy to distribute cocaine base and marijuana and conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Defendant Ricks has moved for disclosure of statements that the Government intends to offer at trial pursuant to Rule 801(d)(2)(E) of the Federal Rules of Evidence and for a James hearing for a pretrial determination of the admissibility of those statements.

         The Government objects to a pre-trial James hearing, arguing that such a hearing is burdensome because it requires the Government to conduct a mini-trial and prove a conspiracy twice. Further, the Government contends that Ricks would gain information at a James hearing to which he would not otherwise be entitled to through pre-trial discovery. The Government notes that co-conspirator statements are not hearsay, are not discoverable under the law, and maintains that the Court should defer ruling on the admissibility of such statements until trial.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         In United States v. James, [3] the Fifth Circuit held that statements of co-conspirators are admissible under the hearsay exception in Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E), upon “sufficient showing, by independent evidence, of a conspiracy among one or more other defendants and the declarant and if the declarations at issue were in furtherance of that conspiracy.”[4] “A James hearing, conducted outside the presence of the jury, is one potential method by which the district court may ensure the Government can satisfy the predicate facts needed to prove the conspiracy independent of the statements.”[5] “Before admitting a co-conspirator's statement over an objection that it does not qualify under Rule 801(d)(2)(E), a court must be satisfied that the statement actually falls within the definition of the Rule. There must be evidence that there was a conspiracy involving the declarant and the nonoffering party, and that the statement was made ‘during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.'”[6] Whether a James hearing is necessary is within the discretion of the district court.[7] “An appellant making a James argument must specifically identify the particular statement he is challenging.”[8]

         The Court finds that the decision of the district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in United States v. Haydel[9] is particularly instructive in this case. In Haydel, the defendant charged in a conspiracy moved for a James hearing. The government objected to a James hearing, as noted by the Court:

The government argues that pursuant to Rule 16(a)(2), a request for any co-conspirator statements is just a ruse to discover the names of prospective witnesses, names to which defendant is not entitled. Rule 16 does not “transmogrify the co-conspirator into the person of the defendant himself.” In re United States, 834 F.2d 283 (2nd Cir.1987); United States v. Sims, 808 F.Supp. 607 (N.D.Ill.1992); United States v. Hoelscher, 914 F.2d 1527, 1535 (8th Cir.1990). The Rule requiring disclosure of statements by the prosecution to a defendant pertains only to discovery of statements made by the defendant, not other witnesses.
Additionally, holding a James hearing is cumbersome, inefficient, and not required by the case law. See United States v. Bourjaily, 483 U.S. 171, 107 S.Ct. 2775, 97 L.Ed.2d 144 (1987); United States v. Ruiz, 987 F.2d 243, 246 (5th Cir.1993). The Court should utilize the Fifth Circuit practice of allowing “admission subject to connection” and admit the evidence, allowing the government to use it in its case-in-chief subject to the government connecting up the evidence to the conspiracy, a determination that should come a[t] the close of the government's case-in-chief. Ruiz, 987 F.2d 246; United States v. Fragoso, 978 F.2d 896 (5th Cir.1992).[10]

         The Haydel court then turned to a discussion of the legal standard applicable to a determination of this issue:

As to Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(E), the “co-conspirator exception” is actually non-hearsay- it is set forth in Rule 801(d) where all actual hearsay exceptions are contained in Rules 803 and 804. As to admissibility, before the Court can admit a co-conspirator statement it should be satisfied that the statement actually fits the rule. This means the government, as a preliminary matter, must demonstrate to the Court, by a preponderance of the evidence, that there was a conspiracy involving the declarant and the non-offering party, and that the statement was made during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy. See United States v. Bourjaily, 483 U.S. 171, 107 S.Ct. 2775, 97 L.Ed.2d 144 (1987). This determination is a preliminary question of fact governed by Rule 104(a) of the FRE and the statements are only admitted if the trial court determines that they fall within the definition of Rule 801(d)(2)(E). In determining whether there is a conspiracy the Court may consider a variety of evidence, including the offered statements themselves. See Bourjaily, 483 U.S. at 171. Additionally, there is no threshold requirement that the defendant be charged with the underlying conspiracy, United States v. Ortiz, 966 F.2d 707, 715 (1st Cir.1992), nor that the Court conduct a separate pre-trial hearing on the admissibility of such a statement in determining whether a conspiracy existed. See Bourjaily, 483 U.S. at 171.[11]
The relevant case law supports the finding that the Court has virtually unfettered discretion to determine when to make such a determination, provided the Court make at least some cursory attempt to find the predicates before the defense rests. See, e.g. United States v. Fragoso, 978 F.2d 896, 900-01 (5th Cir.1992)(holding that, despite the district court's never making any explicit findings of the requisite predicate facts under Rule 801(d)(2)(E), the court's error was harmless because the district court implicitly did so when it denied the defendant's motion for a directed verdict of acquittal). Consequently, the Court finds that a pre-trial determination of the admissibility of co-conspirator statements is not necessary at this time. However, the Court will follow its usual practice of allowing the statements to be offered at trial, subject to a brief bench conference wherein the Court will base its admissibility decisions on whether the government has met its burden of proof regarding the requisite predicates for conspiracy. Only if the Court should then find these predicates have been met will the statements in question be admitted as evidence for the jury's consideration and in accordance with the Rule.[12]

         More recently, in United States v. Wijetunge,[13] the court was faced with a request for a James hearing. The court ...


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