Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 29, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CURTIS JOHNSON, JR.

         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is defendant Curtis Johnson, Jr.'s (“Johnson”) motion[1] to strike (1) the superseding indictment's notice of special findings and (2) the government's notice of intent to seek the death penalty.[2] Alternatively, Johnson requests that the Court order (1) that the grand jury transcripts be disclosed to the defense or reviewed by the Court in camera and (2) that the government be required to amend its notice of intent to explain the notice's factual bases, respectively. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an armored truck robbery and the murder of Hector Trochez, which occurred on December 18, 2013.[3] On November 9, 2017, a grand jury returned a four-count superseding indictment against defendants Lilbear George, Jeremy Esteves, Chukwudi Ofomata, Robert Brumfield, III, Jasmine Theophile, and Johnson.[4] Count one charges the defendants with conspiring to obstruct, delay, and affect commerce by robbery.[5] Count two charges the defendants with aiding and abetting one another to obstruct, delay, and affect commerce by robbery.[6] Count four charges Jasmine Theophile and Lilbear George with aiding and abetting one another to attempt to and corruptly alter, destroy, mutilate, and conceal a cellular telephone and the information thereon with intent to impair a federal grand jury proceeding.[7]

         Count three alleges that the defendants, “aiding and abetting each other, did knowingly use, carry, brandish, and discharge firearms during and in relation to crimes of violence . . ., as set forth in Counts 1 and 2 . . ., and in the course thereof caused the death of Hector Trochez through the use of firearms, ” the killing being defined as murder, as it was committed in perpetration of a robbery affecting commerce.[8]

         The superseding indictment includes a notice of special findings as to count three. With respect to Johnson, the special findings are as follows:

a. He was 18 years of age or older at the time of the offense;
b. He intentionally participated in an act, contemplating that the life of a person would be taken and intending that lethal force would be used in connection with a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, and Hector Trochez died as a direct result of the act;
c. He intentionally and specifically engaged in an act or acts of violence, knowing that the act or acts created a grave risk of death to a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, such that participation in such act or acts constitute a reckless disregard for human life, and Hector Trochez died as a direct result of the act;
d. In the commission of the offense, he knowingly created a grave risk of death to one or more persons in addition to the victim of the offense;
e. He committed the offense as consideration for the receipt and in expectation of the receipt of anything of pecuniary value; and
f. He committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation.[9]

         To render a criminal defendant eligible for the death penalty under the Federal Death Penalty Act (the “FDPA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-3598, the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, one of four mental states, also known as statutory intent factors, provided in § 3591(a)(2) and at least one of sixteen statutory aggravating factors provided in § 3592(c). United States v. Bourgeois, 423 F.3d 501, 506-07 (5th Cir. 2005). The Court will refer to the § 3591(a)(2) statutory intent factors and § 3592(c) statutory aggravating factors collectively as “eligibility factors.” The Fifth Circuit has held that eligibility factors must be charged by indictment.[10] Id. at 507. In this case, they are incorporated into the superseding indictment's notice of special findings as to count three.

         When the government seeks the death penalty, at “a reasonable time before the trial” it must sign and file with the Court, and serve on the defendant, a notice that states that the government believes the circumstances of the offense justify imposition of the death penalty and that it will seek a sentence of death. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(a). The government must also set forth the aggravating factor(s) that it intends to prove at the sentencing hearing to justify such a sentence if the defendant is convicted. Id.

         On August 31, 2018, the government filed its notice of intent to seek the death penalty as to Johnson. The notice of intent states that the government “believes the circumstances of the offenses charged in Count 3 of the Superseding Indictment are such that in the event of a conviction, a sentence of death is justified . . ., and that [the government] will seek the sentence of death for this offense.”[11] The notice of intent also provides that, if Johnson is convicted, the government intends to prove the following statutory intent factors to justify a sentence of death:

1. He intentionally participated in an act, contemplating that the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used in connection with a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, and the victim died as a direct result of the act; and
2. He intentionally and specifically engaged in an act of violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death to a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, such that participation in the act constituted a reckless disregard for human life and the victim died as a direct result of the act;[12]

         These statutory intent factors are virtually identical to special findings II.b and c, relative to Johnson, in the superseding indictment.

         Additionally, the notice of intent provides that the government intends to prove the following statutory aggravating factors:

         1. Johnson, in the commission of the offense, knowingly created a grave risk of death to one or more persons in addition to the victim of the offense; and

         2. He committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, or in the expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value.[13]

         These factors are identical to special findings II. d and e, relative to Johnson, in the superseding indictment.

         Finally, the notice of intent includes the following nonstatutory aggravating factors:

1. As reflected by the victim's personal characteristics as a human being and the impact of the offenses on the victim and the victim's family, [Johnson] caused loss, injury, and harm to the victim and the victim's family . . ., including, but not limited to, the fact that the victim's family suffered severe and irreparable harm; and
2. Johnson substantially planned and premeditated the offenses alleged in Count 3 of the Superseding Indictment, which required the use of a firearm to facilitate the robbery of armed security guards.[14]

         The nonstatutory aggravating factors represent the sole difference between the superseding indictment's notice of special findings and the notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

         In its opposition to the present motion, the government states that the notice of special findings consists of “two threshold mental intent factors” and “three statutory aggravating factors.”[15] Although the government also suggests that the notice of intent includes the same statutory aggravating factors as the superseding indictment, [16] that is incorrect.

         The notice of intent includes only two statutory aggravating factors: grave risk of death to additional persons and pecuniary gain.[17] The statutory aggravating factor regarding substantial planning and premeditation, as described in the FDPA, states, “The defendant committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person or commit an act of terrorism.” 18 U.S.C. § 3592(c)(9). However, as part of the government's case advocating for a death sentence, it intends to prove, not that Johnson substantially planned and premeditated a murder or an act of terrorism, but rather that he substantially planned and premeditated the armed robbery alleged in count three of the superseding indictment.[18] Hence, the factor “other criminal conduct - substantial planning and premeditation for armed robbery” is listed as a nonstatutory aggravating factor in the notice of intent.[19]

         Johnson now moves to strike the superseding indictment's notice of special findings and the government's notice of intent. Generally, Johnson argues that both documents include mere “boilerplate conclusions” and that the government has “fail[ed] to make any factual allegations . . . that apply the alleged . . . factors to [him].”[20] The Court will first address the sufficiency of the superseding indictment.

         THE SUPERSEDING INDICTMENT

         The Fifth Amendment's Indictment Clause provides that “[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.” U.S. Const. amend. V. The grand jury “controls not only the initial decision to indict, but also significant decisions . . ., including the important decision to charge a capital crime.” Campbell v. Louisiana, 523 U.S. 392, 399 (1998).

         “[T]he two primary functions of an indictment are that it (1) provides notice of the crime for which the defendant has been charged, allowing him the opportunity to prepare a defense . . .; and (2) interposes the public into the charging decision, such that a defendant is not subject to jeopardy for a crime alleged only by the prosecution.” United States v. Robinson, 367 F.3d 278, 287 (5th Cir. 2004). The indictment also “ensure[s] that the grand jury finds probable cause that the defendant has committed each element of the offense, hence justifying a trial.” United States v. Cabrera-Teran, 168 F.3d 141, 143 (5th Cir. 1999), overruled on other grounds, 535 U.S. 625 (2002).

         “Under Fifth Circuit jurisprudence, an indictment is sufficient if it [1] contains the elements of the offense charged and [2] fairly informs a defendant of the charge against him[, ] and [3] enables him to plead acquittal or conviction in bar of future prosecutions for the same offense.” United States v. Hagmann, 950 F.2d 175, 182-83 (5th Cir. 1991) (quoting United ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.