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United States v. Taylor

January 24, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
REJON TAYLOR



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court are two motions filed by defendant Rejon Taylor ("Defendant"), who seeks to preclude a penalty phase hearing or dismiss the notice of intent to seek the death penalty filed by the United States ("Government"). In the first motion, Defendant moves to declare the Federal Death Penalty Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-3598, unconstitutional (Court File No. 238). Defendant also filed a memorandum in support (Court File No. 239), and the United States ("Government") filed a response (Court File No. 296), to which Defendant filed a reply (Court File No. 308) and affidavit in support (Court File No. 309).

In the second motion, Defendant moves to declare the Federal Death Penalty Act unconstitutional because it deprives him of his constitutional protections under the Due Process Clause, the Confrontation Clause, and the Eighth Amendment (Court File No. 250). Defendant also filed a memorandum in support (Court File No. 251), to which the Government filed a response (Court File No. 290), to which Defendant filed a reply (Court File No. 310).

For the following reasons, the Court will DENY both motions (Court File Nos. 238, 250).

I. BACKGROUND

The Government alleges: "On August 6, 2003, the defendant participated in the carjacking, kidnaping, and murder of Atlanta restaurant owner Guy Luck by abducting the victim at gunpoint from his home in Atlanta, forcing him into his own van, driving him against his will into Tennessee, and shooting him multiple times and killing him in Collegedale, Tennessee." (Court File No. 290).

A grand jury returned a superseding indictment (Court File No. 447) charging Defendant with

(1) Carjacking Resulting in Death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2119(3) and (2)(a) and (b);

(2) Firearms Murder During and in Relation to Carjacking, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(j)(1) and 2(a) and (b);

(3) Kidnapping Resulting in Death, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1201(a)(1) and 2(a) and (b); and

(4) Firearms Murder During and in Relation to Kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(j)(1) and 2(a) and (b).

The grand jury alleged several sentencing allegations in contemplation of the death penalty. The Government filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Defendant, alleging various statutory and non-statutory aggravating factors and facts and evidence which support those aggravators as a basis for seeking the death penalty (Court File No. 123).

Two other defendants who were charged with Defendant have pleaded guilty (Court File Nos. 282, 284).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Statutes are presumed constitutional. See INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 943 (1983). "An act of Congress ought not be construed to violate the Constitution if any other possible construction remains available." NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 440 U.S. 490, 500 (1979). "[A] statute must be construed, if fairly possible, so as to avoid not only the conclusion that it is unconstitutional but also grave doubts upon that score." Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173, 191 (1991). Defendant, as the party challenging the statute, bears the burden of demonstrating its unconstitutionality. Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 320 (1993); see Lujan v. G & G Fire Sprinklers, 532 U.S. 189, 198 (2001).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Federal Death Penalty Act ("FDPA")

To be eligible for the death penalty under the FDPA, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-3598, a defendant must first be found guilty of a crime for which a sentence of death is provided. 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2). All four counts of the superseding indictment are death penalty eligible crimes. See 18 U.S.C. §2119(3) (Count One); 18 U.S.C. § 924(j)(1) (Counts Two and Four); 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a) (Count Three).

After finding a defendant guilty of a death penalty eligible crime, a jury must make several findings before it may consider imposing the death penalty. This procedure is well-summarized in United States v. Nguyen, 928 F. Supp. 1525, 1532 (D. Kan. 1996):

First, the jury must determine whether [the defendant] had the requisite intent to commit the death eligible offense. 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a). If the jury unanimously finds beyond a reasonable doubt that intent is established, it moves to the next step in the penalty process. If the jury does not so find, the deliberations are over and the death penalty may not be imposed.

Assuming the jury finds the requisite intent, it must then consider the statutory aggravating factors alleged by the government in its notice to seek the death penalty. The statutory aggravating factors from which the government may choose are listed at 18 U.S.C. §§ 3592(c)(1)-[(16)]. The jury must determine whether the government has proven at least one of the statutory factors alleged beyond a reasonable doubt.

18 U.S.C. § 3593(c). If the jury unanimously so finds, it moves to the next step of the penalty process. If not, the deliberations are over and the death penalty may not be imposed. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(d).

Assuming the jury finds at least one statutory aggravating factor, it must then consider that factor or factors, plus "any other aggravating factor for which notice has been provided," 18 U.S.C. § 3593 (d) ("non-statutory aggravating factors"), and weigh them against any mitigating factors to determine whether the death penalty is appropriate. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(e). Non-statutory aggravating factors, like their statutory counterparts, must be unanimously found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, while mitigating factors need only be established by a preponderance of the evidence. Further, any juror persuaded that a mitigating factor exists may consider it in reaching a sentencing decision; unanimity is not required. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(c),(d).

See also Jones v. United States, 527 U.S. 373, 376-78 (1999).

The FDPA states "the jury . . . shall consider whether all the aggravating factor or factors found to exist sufficiently outweigh all the mitigating factor or factors found to exist to justify a sentence of death. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(e). "Based upon this consideration, the jury by unanimous vote . . . shall recommend whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, to life imprisonment without possibility of release or some lesser sentence." Id. If the jury recommends the defendant be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release, the Court must then sentence the defendant accordingly. 18 U.S.C. § 3594.

B. Defendant's Motion to Declare the FDPA Unconstitutional

Defendant contends the FDPA is unconstitutional and provides 14 arguments in support. The Court will examine each argument in turn.

1. "The federal death penalty operates in an unconstitutionally arbitrary and capricious manner because it is so rarely sought or imposed."

Defendant alleges 15.9% of defendants who the Government sought a death sentence for between 1998 and June 2006 were sentenced to death. Referring to the numerous concurring opinions in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 309-10 (1972), Defendant asserts the United States Supreme Court found "arbitrary and capricious a system in which fewer than 20% of defendants charged with capital crimes were actually sentenced to death." (Court File No. 239, pp. 4-5 (citing Furman, 402 U.S. at 436)). As the Government points out in its response, although the concurring opinions offer different analyses, the Supreme Court found where discretion is afforded to a sentencing body, that discretion must be suitably directed and limited to particularized circumstances of the crime and the ...


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