Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lopez: "Thug Mansion" convictions affirmed

In U.S. v. Lopez, No. 09-12802 (Aug. 16, 2011), the Court affirmed fatal carjacking, drug trafficking, and firearm possession convictions and sentences of four co-defendants.

The Court rejected two drug trafficking co-defendants’ arguments that their trials should have been severed. The Court noted that defendants indicted together are usually tried together, and a defendant will rarely be able to show the requisite “prejudice” to avoid this result. Here, the co-defendants argued that they should not have been tried with co-defendants who were charged with crimes that were subject to the death penalty, but the Court found that this was not a sufficient ground for severance. The Court recognized that the joint trial brought into evidence the fact that two coconspirators had murdered a fellow drug dealer, his wife, and their two young children. But the district court instructed the jury not to consider this evidence against the co-defendants who were not charged with these crimes. In addition, the government presented “compelling evidence” of their guilt, mitigating the effect of “spillover” prejudice.

The Court rejected the argument that the district court, during jury selection, improperly required the co-defendants to agree unanimously on all 20 of their peremptory challenges. The Court noted that a district court is permitted to require co-defendants to agree by majority vote on the use of peremptories. In addition, other Circuits have held that it is not improper to require co-defendants to agree on the exercise of peremptory challenges.

The Court rejected the argument that there was insufficient evidence to support a search warrant of premises known as the “Thug Mansion.” The defendants argued that the passage of time between the murders and the search – 12 days – meant that probable cause had “faded away.” The Court pointed out that the police investigation continued during this period, and the “less-than-a-fortnight time lapse” would not prevent them from believing that evidence would still be found there.

The Court rejected a challenge to the admission of evidence of defendants’ prior drug deals. The evidence was admissible because it provided “context” and established the trust among the parties for the drug transactions that were part of the charged offenses.