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United States v. Strong

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

January 31, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. PLAINTIFF
v.
SHELBY STRONG, et al., DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court.

         This matter comes before the Court upon Motion by Defendant Shelby Strong ("Strong") to declare this case complex. [DN 95.] The United States has responded, [DN 105], as has one of Strong's co-defendants, Chicoby Summers ("Summers"). [DN 99.] This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Strong's Motion [DN 95] is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of an alleged conspiracy amongst various individuals, including Strong, to purchase firearms in Kentucky and Indiana for resale and/or distribution to individuals prohibited from possessing firearms due to past felony convictions. [DN 53.] In a forty-count Superseding Indictment filed by the United States on November 21, 2017, Strong was charged in thirty-one of them. [See id.] Strong has been charged with one count of conspiracy to possess a firearm by a prohibited individual; thirteen counts of being an unlawful user of a controlled substance while in possession of a firearm; eleven counts of making a false and fictitious written statement intended to deceive a firearms dealer regarding substance abuse in purchasing a firearm; one count of dealing in firearms by an unlicensed seller; one count of traveling across state lines with the intent to deal in firearms; and four counts of aiding and abetting the sale and disposal of a firearm to a person previously convicted of a felony. [See generally id.]

         The Superseding Indictment also includes charges against four other individuals: Summers, Jerlen Horton ("Horton"), Derrick Hammond ("Hammond"), and Lakeshia Watts ("Watts"). [See id.] Summers has been charged in five counts, two of which were recently severed from this action. [See DN 117 (this Court granting in part and denying in part Summers' Motion to Sever).] The three remaining counts against Summers are as follows: one for conspiracy to possess a firearm by a prohibited individual, and two for being a person convicted of a felony in possession of a firearm and ammunition. [See DN 53, at 1-6.] Horton is charged in six counts: one for conspiracy to possess a firearm by a prohibited individual, three counts of being a person convicted of a felony in possession of a firearm, one count of being a person convicted of a felony in possession of explosive materials, and one count of obstruction of justice. [See Id. at 7-9.] Hammond is charged in six counts: one for conspiracy to possess a firearm by a prohibited individual, one count of obstruction of justice, and four counts of aiding and abetting the sale and disposal of a firearm to a person previously convicted of a felony. [See Id. at 3-4, 9, 23-24.] Watts is charged in two counts: one for conspiracy to possess a firearm by a prohibited individual, and one for obstruction of justice. [See Id. at 3-4, 9.]

         With five defendants and thirty-eight counts remaining in the Superseding Indictment, Strong has now asked the Court to declare this matter complex under the Speedy Trial Act. [See DN 95.]

         II. Legal Standard

         "[T]he Speedy Trial Act comprehensively regulates the time within which a trial must begin, " and also provides "numerous categories of delay that are not counted in applying the Act's deadlines." Zedner v. United States, 547 U.S. 489, 500 (2006). For example, it "requires that a trial commence within seventy days of the filing date or the date the defendant appeared before a judicial officer of the court, whichever is later. 18 U.S.C. § 3161(c)(1)." United States v. Stone, 461 Fed.Appx. 461, 463 (6th Cir. 2012). However, while the 70-day maximum is a hard and fast rule, as the Zedner Court noted, there are numerous instances in which that timeline is tolled, one of which is the situation where a case is deemed to be "complex." Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A), an exclusion is allowed for periods of "delay resulting from a continuance granted by any judge...if...on the basis of his finding that the ends of justice served... outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial." One of the issues the court may consider in deciding whether this is necessary is "whether the case is so unusual or so complex, due to the number of defendants, the nature of the prosecution, or the existence of novel questions of fact or law, that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or for the trial itself within the time limits established by this section." 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii). Before granting a so-called "ends-of-justice continuance, " "a district court should weigh factors such as whether a miscarriage of justice could result, the complexity of the case and time needed for preparation, and the continuity of counsel." United States v. Richardson, 681 F.3d 736, 740 (6th Cir. 2012). Importantly, if done, the court's findings must be set forth, either orally or in writing, in the record of the case. 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A).

         III. Discussion

         In the present action, Strong has asked this Court to make a determination that this case is so complex that it would be unreasonable to expect him, any of his co-defendants, or the United States, to be adequately prepared for pretrial proceedings or for the trial. [DN 95.] See also 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii). This statutory provision directs the Court's attention to three specific factors, which should be analyzed in determining whether an action is "complex" under the meaning of the Speedy Trial Act: (1) "the number of defendants, " (2) "the nature of the prosecution, " and (3) "the existence of novel questions of fact or law...." 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii).

         There are five defendants in the present action: Strong, Summers, Horton, Hammond, and Watts. [See DN 53.] This alone, of course, is insufficient to deem this case "complex" under the Speedy Trial Act. However, that there are numerous defendants named in the Superseding Indictment does inform this Court's decision, and contributes to its ultimate conclusion that this matter should be deemed complex. Where the true complexity lies is with the second factor: "the nature of the prosecution." See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii). In his Motion, Strong argues that "the time period of the [alleged] conspiracy, " and counsel's anticipation of "substantial discovery" lends itself to the notion that this is a complex case. [See DN 95, at 1.] The Court agrees. In the Background section, supra, the Court explained the thirty-eight counts remaining in this Superseding Indictment, and the various charges which have been levied against each of the five defendants.

         This case involves an alleged conspiracy by Strong, Summers, Horton, Hammond, and Watts to purchase firearms and ammunition from licensed firearms dealers in Kentucky and Indiana and later resell and/or distribute these firearms to individuals such as Summers and Horton, individuals who had previously been convicted of a felony and were thereby prohibited from possessing such items. [See DN 53.] The charges in this case range from conspiracy charges against all five individuals, to firearms and explosive materials possession by prohibited individuals, aiding and abetting the illegal sale of firearms, traveling across state lines to illegally purchase firearms, making false and fictitious statements regarding drug use in connection with purchasing firearms, and obstruction of justice. [See id.] Some charges include multiple defendants, others are only against one. In short, the Superseding Indictment paints a very complex picture, so much so that the United States in its Response to the instant Motion stated that it has no objection to the case being declared complex under 18 U.S.C. § 3161 (h)(7)(B)(ii). [See DN 105, at 1.]

         However, in addition to the numerous overlapping counts against one or more of the five defendants, the crucial component of this case that has lead this Court to the determination that it is properly categorized as complex is the varying dates and locations during which time these crimes allegedly occurred. For example, Strong has been charged with thirty-one counts in the Superseding Indictment, and there are more than twenty different dates during which time these crimes allegedly occurred. [See DN 53.] Moreover, the time-frame spans from September 2016 to May 2017, or roughly nine months. [See id.] And many of these instances relate to firearm purchases allegedly made by Strong on many different dates. This means that there are likely numerous witnesses possessing different information, and much more discovery to be had.

         To be clear, no one fact has forced the Court to reach the conclusion that this case should be declared complex. Instead, in examining all of the circumstances surrounding this case and the Superseding Indictment, it has become clear to the Court that a decision should be rendered to that effect. The number of defendants (five), the time period of the alleged conspiracy (roughly nine months), the number of charges remaining in the Superseding Indictment (thirty-eight) and, perhaps most importantly, the ...


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