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United States v. Johnson

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

October 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SHUNTARIO JOHNSON, Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING IN PART AND REVERSING IN PART MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART DEFENDANT SHUNTARIO JOHNSON'S MOTION TO SEVER COUNTS

          JOHN T. FOWLKES, Jr. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Shuntario Johnson's Motion to Sever Counts Two, Three, and Four from the other Counts of the Fourth Superseding Indictment and to Sever Counts Five, Six, and Seven from Counts One, Eight, Nine, and Ten of the Fourth Superseding Indictment, filed on August 4, 2019.[1] (ECF No. 220.) The United States filed its Response opposing the Motion on August 13, 2019. (ECF No. 231.) The Motion was referred to the Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 238), who issued a Report and Recommendation on September 5, 2019, suggesting that the Motion should be denied as to severing Counts Five, Six, and Seven from Counts One, Eight, Nine, and Ten but granted as to severing Counts Two, Three, and Four from the other Counts. (See ECF No. 265, 1.) The United States timely filed an Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation on September 9, 2019. (ECF No. 270.) On September 9, 2019, the Court heard arguments regarding the Government's objection. (ECF No. 272.)

         For the following reasons, the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation should be ADOPTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, and Defendant's Motion to Sever should be DENIED.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         In her Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge provides, and this Court adopts and incorporates, proposed findings of fact in this case. (ECF No. 265, 1-7.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Congress passed 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) “to relieve some of the burden on the federal courts by permitting the assignment of certain district court duties to magistrates.” United States v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598, 602 (6th Cir. 2001). Pursuant to the provision, magistrate judges may hear and determine any pretrial matter pending before the Court, except various dispositive motions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Regarding those excepted dispositive motions, magistrate judges may still hear and submit to the district court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for disposition. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Upon hearing a pending matter, “[T]he magistrate judge must enter a recommended disposition, including, if appropriate, proposed findings of fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(1); see also Baker v. Peterson, 67 Fed.Appx. 308, 310 (6th Cir. 2003). Any party who disagrees with a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendation may file written objections to the report and recommendation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2).

         The standard of review that is applied by the district court depends on the nature of the matter considered by the magistrate judge. See Baker, 67 Fed.Appx. at 310 (citations omitted) (“A district court normally applies a ‘clearly erroneous or contrary to law' standard of review for nondispositive preliminary measures. A district court must review dispositive motions under the de novo standard.”). Upon review of the evidence, the district court may accept, reject, or modify the proposed findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge. Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 47 F.Supp.3d 665, 674 (W.D. Tenn. 2014); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court “may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the [m]agistrate [j]udge with instructions.” Moses v. Gardner, No. 2:14-cv-2706-SHL-dkv, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29701, at *3 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 11, 2015). A district judge should adopt the findings and rulings of the magistrate judge to which no specific objection is filed. Brown, 47 F.Supp.3d at 674.

         ANALYSIS

         The Court finds that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation should be reversed in part and granted in part, and the Defendant's Motion to Sever denied.

         Severance of Counts Two, Three, and Four

         For the following reasons, the Court reverses the Magistrate Judge's recommendation for the severance of Counts Two, Three, and Four. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 8(a) (“Rule 8(a)”) provides, “[t]he indictment or information may charge a defendant in separate counts with [two] or more offenses if the offenses charged . . . 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 requires a trial court to examine the allegations of the indictment in order to determine whether the joining of the offenses . . . has been proper.” United States v. Frost, 125 F.3d 346, 389 (6th Cir. 1997). The Sixth Circuit has held that Rule 8(a) “should be construed in favor of joinder.” United States v. Deitz, 577 F.3d 672, 691-92. If an indictment fails to satisfy Rule 8(a)'s joinder requirements, severance is required. United States v. Chavis, 296 F.3d 450, 456 (6th Cir. 2002). In examining the allegations of the indictment, the district court may broadly construe Rule 8(a) to “‘promote the goals of trial convenience and judicial efficiency.'” United States v. Graham, 275 F.3d 490, 512 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing United States v. Wirsing, 719 F.2d 859, 863 (6th Cir. 1983)). Such a broad construction of Rule 8(a) implies that “[s]imilar does not mean identical.” United States v. Boulanger, 444 F.3d 76, 87 (1st Cir. 2006).

         In determining whether Counts Two, Three, and Four are sufficiently similar to the remaining Counts of the Indictment, it is helpful to review the carjacking statute. Count Two charges Defendant with a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2119 (“Section 2119”)-carjacking. Section 2119 falls within Chapter 103, entitled Robbery and Burglary. The Magistrate Judge indicates:

Defendant has not cited any authority, and the Court is aware of none, stating that carjacking, i.e. robbery of a vehicle, is of the same character as conspiracy and attempt to rob ‘persons engaged in narcotics trafficking to obtain drugs and drug proceeds.' . . . Defendant has likewise cited no authority, and the Court is aware of none, stating that ...

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