United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SEVERANCE
H. Miller Senior United States District Judge
before the court is defendant Julissa Diaz's motion to
sever. Dkt. 124. The government responded in opposition to
severance. Dkt. 128. Having considered the motion, response,
and applicable law, the court is of the opinion that Ms.
Diaz's motion should be DENIED.
Diaz seeks to sever her trial from that of her co-defendant
and former husband, Ricardo Diaz. Dkt. 124. The defendants
each are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to
distribute a controlled substance. Dkt. 48. Ms. Diaz alleges
that “their marriage was marred by repeated acts of
domestic violence and that [Mr. Diaz] exerted certain
physical and psychological control over [her] throughout the
marriage. Id. at 1. She argues three ways proceeding
to trial with Mr. Diaz would prejudice her: (1) that her
“right to testify in her own defense free of
intimidation, ” would be compromised; (2) the jury
might question Ms. Diaz's credibility if defendants are
sitting together at the same counsel table during trial; and
(3) her defense is necessarily antagonistic to that of Mr.
Diaz. Id. at 4. The government contends that
severance is unwarranted because Ms. Diaz arguments are
insufficient to meet the demanding requirements of Federal
Rule of Criminal Procedure 14 and curative instructions can
mitigate any potential prejudice to Ms. Diaz. Dkt. 128 at 8.
who are indicted together should generally be tried together,
particularly in conspiracy cases.” United States v.
Musquiz, 45 F.3d 927, 931 (5th Cir. 1995). “If the
joinder of offenses or defendants in an indictment . . .
appears to prejudice a defendant or the government, the court
may order separate trials . . . or provide any other relief
that justice requires. Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a). To warrant
Rule 14 severance relief, a defendant must show that
“(1) the joint trial [would prejudice her] to such an
extent that the district court could not provide adequate
protection; and (2) the prejudice outweighed the
government's interest in economy of judicial
administration.” United States v.
Ledezma-Cepeda, 894 F.3d 686, 690 (5th Cir. 2018).
“Severance is an exception warranted ‘only if
there is a serious risk that a joint trial would compromise a
specific trial right of one of the defendants, or prevent the
jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or
innocence.'” Id. (quoting Zafiro v.
United States, 506 U.S. 534, 539, 113 S.Ct. 933 (1993))
(internal citations omitted). “Additionally, in
conspiracy cases [the Fifth Circuit] generally favor[s]
specific instructions over severance.” Id.
only “specific trial right” Ms. Diaz argues would
be compromised is her right to testify free of intimidation
or threat, but she provides no legal or constitutional
authority recognizing such a right, and this court declines
to recognize a new right absent such authority. Ms.
Diaz's other concerns also do not merit severance.
Specific instructions to the jury can mitigate concerns about
potential inferences about courtroom seating. Because Ms.
Diaz has not shown “serious risk [to] a specific trial
right, ” the court declines to sever her trial from Mr.
Diaz's other two arguments do not implicate any specific
trial right. She is concerned the jury may draw improper
inferences if she must share a counsel table with Mr. Diaz.
However, ‘it is generally presumed that juries follow
the instructions given to them by the district court and are
capable of compartmentalizing the evidence against each
defendant.” Ledezma-Cepeda, 894 F.3d at 690.
Specific instructions to the jury can mitigate any potential
inferences the jury may draw from courtroom seating
arrangements, therefore severance is unwarranted.
Diaz also insists that “her defense that [Mr. Diaz]
coerced, threatened and order her to” participate in
the alleged conspiracy is “irreconcilable and mutually
exclusive” with Mr. Diaz's defense. Dkt. 124 at
3-4. Severance is appropriate when “the defenses of two
co-defendants are antagonistic to the point of being mutually
exclusive or irreconcilable, ” but “[t]o meet
this standard, the essence or core of the defenses must be in
conflict, such that the jury, in order to believe the core of
one defense, must necessarily disbelieve the core of the
other defense.” United States v.
Almeida-Biffi, 825 F.2d 830, 833 (5th Cir.
1987) (internal quotations omitted). This is not the case
when a defendant presents a duress defense implicating their
former spouse. See Id. The court is unpersuaded that
Ms. Diaz's duress defense is irreconcilable or mutually
exclusive of Mr. Diaz's defense.
the court finds that Ms. Diaz has not met her burden for Rule
14 severance relief. Her motion ...