United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Bredar Chief Judge
Alexis Reyes-Canales and Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez are
charged along with four other defendants in a case
encompassing one murder, two attempted murders, and
allegations of involvement in an alleged criminal enterprise,
MS-13. Reyes-Canales is charged with conspiracy to
participate in a racketeering enterprise, 18 U.S.C. §
1962(d), two counts of attempted murder in aid of
racketeering, 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5), conspiracy to
commit murder in aid of racketeering, 18 U.S.C. §
1959(a)(5), two counts of possession and use of a firearm
during and in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C.
§ 924(c), and conspiracy to possess a firearm in
furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. § 924(o).
Sandoval-Rodriguez is charged under two separate counts for
murder in aid of racketeering, 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1),
and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, 18
U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5). The other defendants have pleaded
guilty, and Reyes-Canales and Sandoval-Rodriguez are the only
remaining defendants facing trial. Reyes-Canales and
Sandoval-Rodriguez are not both charged in any single
count-there is no overlap.
October 1, 2019, the Government filed a Status Report which
contained the evidence it planned to introduce in the joint
trial of Reyes-Canales and Sandoval-Rodriguez. (Status Rep.,
ECF No. 235.) The Court filed a Letter Order later that day
alerting counsel to the fact that, based on the evidence the
Government sought to admit, and recognizing the change in
circumstances presented by the other defendants' guilty
pleas, the Court now harbored serious doubts about the
fairness of trying Reyes-Canales and Sandoval-Rodriguez
together. (Letter Order, ECF No. 236.) On October 2, the
Government filed a Response to the Court's Letter Order.
(Gov. Resp., ECF No. 239). Both Sandoval-Rodriguez and
Reyes-Canales subsequently filed separate Motions to Sever.
(S.R. Mot. Sever., ECF No. 240; R.C. Mot. Sever, ECF No.
241.) The Court held a hearing to address these motions on
October 3, 2019, For the following reasons, as well as those
stated in open court, the Court will grant
Reyes-Canales's Motion to Sever. Sandoval-Rodriguez's
Motion to Sever accordingly will be denied as
case concerns the murder of one victim and the attempted
murder of two victims in connection with the defendants'
alleged involvement in MS-13. The Government alleges the
defendants conspired to kill Victim 1 because they believed
he was connected to a rival gang. (Status Rep. at 2.) The
Government alleges that on March 11, 2016, Reyes-Canales,
Sandoval-Rodriguez, and the other defendants lured Victim 1
to a park, hit him on the head with a blunt object, and
proceeded to stab him multiple times until he died.
(Id. at 2-3.) After the murder, the defendants
allegedly dug a shallow grave and buried Victim 1, whose body
was not found for almost a year and a half. (Id. at
3.) The Government alleges Reyes-Canales directed this
October 23, 2016, some of the defendants-including
Reyes-Canales, but not Sandoval-Rodriguez-allegedly plotted
to kill Victim 2 because they believed he was also a member
of a rival gang. (Id. at 4.) The defendants sought
to lure Victim 2 to the same park where they allegedly
murdered Victim 1, but he arrived with Victim 3.
(Id.) The Government alleges the defendants
"decided they could leave no witnesses to the
murder" and decided to also murder Victim 3.
(Id.) Reyes-Canales and another defendant drew
handguns and ordered Victims 2 and 3 out of their car.
(Id.) The Victims began to run, and another
defendant shot Victim 3 in the legs multiple times.
(Id.) Reyes-Canales allegedly attempted to shoot at
the Victims as well, but he did not fire because his gun
malfunctioned. (Id.) Other defendants chased the
Victims, repeatedly stabbed Victim 2 with a knife, and
attempted to run over Victim 2, (Id.) Victim 2 was
later found by police "lying in a pool of blood and
bleeding profusely." (Id.) Victim 3 was also
found bleeding profusely, and "appeared . . . nearly
decapitated." Miraculously, both Victim 2 and Victim 3
ultimately survived this attack. (Id.)
is not charged in relation to the attempted murders of
Victims 2 and 3 because the Government "does not believe
h[e] participated in that conduct." (Id. at 2.)
And Reyes-Canales is not charged-and cannot be charged-for
the murder of Victim 1 because he was a juvenile at the time
this murder took place. An individual may not be prosecuted
in federal court for crimes committed as a juvenile if the
mandatory maximum penalties for those crimes would be
unconstitutional as applied to a juvenile. United States
v. Under Seal, 819 F.3d 715, 728 (4th Cir. 2016). The
Supreme Court has held that both the death penalty and life
imprisonment- the mandatory maximum sentences for murder in
aid of racketeering-are unconstitutional when applied to
juveniles. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 489
(2012) (mandatory life imprisonment without parole
unconstitutional for juveniles); Roper v. Simmons,
543 U.S. 551, 568 (2005) (death penalty unconstitutional for
juveniles). Therefore, as the case stands, Reyes-Canales is
not and cannot be charged in federal court for the murder of
argues in his Motion to Sever that a joint trial with
Sandoval-Rodriguez would prejudice his right to a fair trial.
(R.C. Mot. Sever at 1.) Reyes-Canales argues that
Sandoval-Rodriguez and Reyes-Canales are not charged with
being part of the same overarching conspiracy, nor are they
charged with the same murders or attempted
murders. (Id. at 5.) He argues that the
introduction of evidence about his involvement in the murder
of Victim 1, for which only Sandoval-Rodriguez is charged,
would be unfairly prejudicial because this evidence concerns
behavior committed before he reached the age of majority, for
which he is not legally culpable. (Id.)
Government acknowledges that evidence of Reyes-Canales's
involvement in the murder of Victim 1 is not admissible to
prove his guilt in Victim 1 's murder. But the Government
argues in response that the introduction of such evidence is
not unfairly prejudicial and is admissible "to prove
[the existence of] the MS-13 enterprise alleged in the
[violent crimes in aid of racketeering] involving
Reyes-Canales" and "to prove Reyes-Canales'
motive in committing those crimes, i.e., to maintain or
increase position in the MS-13 enterprise." (Gov. Resp.
at 5.) The Government also argues such evidence is admissible
in support of the charge of conspiracy to participate in a
racketeering enterprise, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), because
such evidence demonstrates when Reyes-Canales joined the
conspiracy, the scope of the conspiracy, and the
foreseeability of the acts of his coconspirators. (Status
Rep. at 2.)
to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14, if the joinder of
defendants for trial "appears to prejudice a defendant
or the government, the court may order separate trials of
counts, sever the defendants' trials, or provide any
other relief that justice requires." Fed. R. Crim. P.
14. Severance should be granted "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." Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S.
534, 539 (1993). "[T]he trial judge has a continuing
duty at all stages of the trial to grant a severance if
prejudice does appear." Schaffer v. United
States, 362 U.S. 511, 516 (1960). Once a court has
determined that joinder would lead to prejudice, it is in the
court's discretion to fashion the relief it deems
necessary. Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 539, 541 ("Rule
14 leaves the determination of risk of prejudice and any
remedy that may be necessary to the sound discretion of the
district courts."). Accordingly, a trial court's
decision on a motion to sever is reviewed only for an abuse
of discretion. United States v. Allen, 491 F.3d 178,
189 (4th Cir. 2007).
Rule of Evidence 404(b) permits the Court to admit evidence
of crimes or wrongs not charged to prove "motive,
opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity,
absence of mistake, or lack of accident." However, Rule
404(b) is tempered by Rule 403, which permits the court to
exclude relevant evidence if the probative value of that
evidence is "substantially outweighed" by the
"danger of... unfair prejudice, confusing the
issues," or "misleading the jury." Fed.R.Evid.
403. See Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681,
688 (1988) (the admission of evidence under 404(b) should be
assessed under Rule 403) (citing Advisory Committee's
Notes on Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)).
have a responsibility to ensure the fundamental fairness of
criminal trials, and this responsibility is at its zenith
when the court is presiding over a complex, multidefendant
criminal trial that contains allegations of extreme violence.
The right to a fair trial is trial is "the most
fundamental of all freedoms," Estes v. State of
Tex.,381 U.S. 532, 540 (1965), and accordingly courts