Please E-mail suggested additions, comments and/or corrections to Kent@MoreLaw.Com.

Help support the publication of case reports on MoreLaw

Date: 07-16-2021

Case Style:


Case Number: 19-590-cr

Judge: Raymond J. Lohier


Plaintiff's Attorney: MONICA J. RICHARDS, Assistant United States Attorney,
for James P. Kennedy, Jr., United States Attorney for the
Western District of New York

Defendant's Attorney:

New York, NY Criminal defense Lawyer Directory


New York, New York - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with one count of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges.

Aaron Hicks was retried on one count of conspiracy under the Racketeer
14 Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), after
15 having been convicted in an earlier trial of participating in a marijuana
16 trafficking conspiracy but acquitted of participating in a cocaine and cocaine base
17 conspiracy and a related firearms charge. Before his first trial, Hicks moved to
18 disqualify the attorney for one of his co-defendants because the attorney had
19 previously represented Hicks in a related state court matter. The United States
20 District Court for the Western District of New York (Arcara, J.) denied the
21 motion. It elected instead to sever Hicks’s trial from that of the co-defendant and
22 proceeded to try Hicks alone. Hicks claims that this was an abuse of discretion.
23 During the retrial, moreover, the District Court admitted evidence suggesting
24 that Hicks had participated in the cocaine conspiracy notwithstanding his earlier 3
1 acquittal. On appeal, Hicks argues that this violated his rights under the Double
2 Jeopardy Clause.
3 We address two questions. First, did the District Court’s decision to admit
4 evidence of Hicks’s involvement in cocaine or cocaine base trafficking during his
5 retrial on the RICO conspiracy charge violate the prohibition against double
6 jeopardy? Second, did the District Court err when it denied Hicks’s motion to
7 disqualify his co-defendant’s counsel and instead severed Hicks’s trial?
8 We answer each question in the negative and affirm the judgment of the
9 District Court.
11 In 2015 Hicks, along with other defendants, was charged principally with
12 conspiracy to distribute marijuana, cocaine, and cocaine base in violation of 21
13 U.S.C. § 846, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and a
14 drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i), and RICO
15 conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). Before trial, Hicks moved to
16 disqualify co-defendant Roderick Arrington’s counsel, Andrew LoTempio, on
17 the ground that LoTempio had previously represented Hicks in a state court
18 matter that, it turned out, the Government alleged was an overt act in 4
1 furtherance of the RICO conspiracy charged in this case. The District Court held
2 a Curcio hearing to probe the nature of LoTempio’s potential conflict and to
3 determine whether Arrington would waive the conflict. See United States v.
4 Curcio, 680 F.2d 881 (2d Cir. 1982). After the hearing, Arrington waived the
potential conflict, and the District Court accepted Arrington’s waiver.1 5
6 The District Court nevertheless recognized that Arrington’s waiver did not
7 fully resolve the potential conflicts that might arise in a joint trial. If Hicks
8 testified, the court observed, LoTempio could exploit his prior representation of
9 Hicks to cross-examine him. To avoid this problem, LoTempio proposed
10 severing Hicks’s trial from Arrington’s, while Hicks sought LoTempio’s
11 disqualification altogether. The District Court decided that severing the trials
12 was the better option. Disqualifying LoTempio as Hicks proposed, it explained,
13 would violate Arrington’s Sixth Amendment right to be represented by the
14 counsel of his choice.
15 Hicks was tried alone. At trial the Government sought to prove that Hicks
16 was a member of a violent Buffalo-based drug-trafficking organization it called
1 This Court later held that Arrington’s waiver was not knowing and intelligent because
he was not fully informed of the consequences of the waiver. See United States v.
Arrington, 941 F.3d 24, 42–44 (2d Cir. 2019).5
1 the “Schuele Boys.” The Government introduced evidence that Hicks and other
Schuele Boys members trafficked in marijuana, cocaine, and cocaine base.2 2 For
3 example, one cooperating government witness, Julio Contreras, testified that he
4 started selling cocaine to Hicks, his main contact within the Schuele Boys, in late
5 2010, with an initial shipment of sixteen kilograms of cocaine from Texas to
6 Buffalo. Contreras continued to transport cocaine routinely from Texas directly
7 to Hicks until Contreras was arrested a year later, in November 2011. There was
8 also evidence that Hicks, Arrington, and others plotted to murder Quincy
9 Balance in retaliation for the murder of a Schuele Boys member. One witness
10 testified that Hicks and others discussed murdering Balance, while another
11 placed Hicks at the scene of Balance’s murder.
12 The jury reached a mixed verdict. It found Hicks guilty of engaging in the
13 marijuana conspiracy, but it acquitted him of conspiring to traffic in cocaine or
cocaine base.3 14 Hicks was also acquitted of the firearm possession charge. The
2 In addition to evidence of various drug deals, the Government introduced two music
videos produced by a record label associated with the Schuele Boys that featured lyrics
about the drug business and depicted Hicks (and others) with cash and prop drugs.
3 On the special verdict form finding Hicks guilty of a narcotics conspiracy only with
respect to marijuana, the jury checked “marijuana” but wrote nothing next to “cocaine”
or “cocaine base.” The District Court understood that this alone would not be enough
to conclude that Hicks was acquitted of trafficking in cocaine or cocaine base. See United 6
1 jury was unable to reach a verdict on the RICO conspiracy count, as to which the
2 District Court declared a mistrial. Hicks moved for a judgment of acquittal
3 under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. Because it was likely that he
4 would be retried on the RICO conspiracy count, he also moved to exclude
5 evidence of any cocaine or cocaine base trafficking in the retrial. Admitting the
6 evidence, he claimed, would violate his double jeopardy rights.
7 The District Court denied both motions. On the motion to exclude
8 evidence at the retrial, it explained that the jury could have concluded “that
9 cocaine and cocaine base conspiracies existed but that [Hicks] was not a member
10 of the conspiracies.” Sp. App’x 35. Because double jeopardy attached only if the
11 jury had necessarily decided both of those elements in Hicks’s favor and because
12 the retrial involved the very different charge of RICO conspiracy, the court
States v. Gotti, 451 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir. 2006) (“[A] jury verdict must be unanimous.”)
(citing Fed. R. Crim. P. 31(a)). The District Court nevertheless concluded that an
acquittal could be inferred “[b]ased on the Court’s instruction to the jury, together with
the way in which the jury returned its verdict on Count 2”; when the clerk asked
whether the jury had found that Hicks had trafficked in cocaine or cocaine base, the
foreperson said “no” rather than “unable to reach a verdict,” which is how the District
Court had instructed the foreperson to respond when the jury was unable to reach a
unanimous verdict. Sp. App’x 22-23 & n.3. Neither party disputes that the jury
acquitted Hicks of cocaine or cocaine base trafficking. 7
1 reasoned, there was no basis to preclude evidence of the cocaine or cocaine base
2 trafficking in Hicks’s retrial.
3 Hicks was retried in 2018. At the retrial, the Government relied on
substantially the same evidence that it had presented during the first trial.4 4 In
5 particular, it reintroduced evidence that Contreras regularly shipped cocaine
6 from Texas to Hicks in Buffalo—the same evidence that it had used
7 unsuccessfully in the first trial to convict Hicks of engaging in a cocaine
8 conspiracy. The Government also emphasized the relationship between
9 Contreras and Hicks in its summation, as follows: “Contreras told you that they
10 became members, right; that he came up in November of 2010 with 16 kilograms
11 of cocaine and they established what the prices were going to be and how they
12 were going to be sold . . . . [T]hey established their agreement then. [Hicks]
13 knew that he was a member, knew what he was getting into.” App’x 2820.
14 The second jury convicted Hicks of the RICO conspiracy count. The
15 District Court then sentenced Hicks principally to 360 months’ imprisonment.
16 This appeal followed.
4 The only new evidence of Hicks’s participation in a cocaine conspiracy that was
admitted at the retrial consisted of the testimony of an individual who said he sold
marijuana and cocaine that he had obtained from Hicks. 8
2 Hicks challenges his RICO conspiracy conviction on double jeopardy
3 grounds. He challenges his convictions for both marijuana conspiracy and RICO
4 conspiracy on the ground that the District Court should not have severed his
5 trial.
6 I
7 A
8 The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment guarantees that no
9 person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or
10 limb.” U.S. Const. amend. V. “This guarantee recognizes the vast power of the
11 sovereign, the ordeal of a criminal trial, and the injustice our criminal justice
12 system would invite if prosecutors could treat trials as dress rehearsals until they
13 secure the convictions they seek.” Currier v. Virginia, 138 S. Ct. 2144, 2149
14 (2018).
15 The clause has two components. The more familiar “charging” component
16 derives from the Supreme Court’s opinion in Blockburger v. United States,
17 284 U.S. 299 (1932), and governs the charges that the government may pursue
18 against a criminal defendant. It “embodies a kind of ‘claim preclusion’ rule, [but] 9
1 bears little in common with its civil counterpart.” Currier, 138 S. Ct. at 2154. The
2 charging component “asks whether each offense contains an element not
3 contained in the other, and provides that, if not, they are the same offense and
4 double jeopardy bars additional punishment.” United States v. Garavito-Garcia,
5 827 F.3d 242, 250 (2d Cir. 2016) (quotation marks omitted).
6 The Government was not barred on double jeopardy grounds from
7 retrying Hicks for RICO conspiracy. As Hicks concedes, the elements of the
8 narcotics conspiracy of which he was acquitted and the elements of the RICO
9 conspiracy count of conviction that he challenges on appeal differ substantially.
10 A narcotics conspiracy that involves five or more kilograms of cocaine, as was
11 alleged here, requires that the Government prove the existence of the conspiracy,
12 that the defendant willfully joined it, and the drug quantity. See United States v.
13 Taylor, 816 F.3d 12, 19 (2d Cir. 2016). The RICO conspiracy charged here,
14 meanwhile, has the following elements: (1) “an agreement to join a racketeering
15 scheme”; (2) “the defendant’s knowing engagement in the scheme with the intent
16 that the overall goals be effectuated”; and (3) “that the scheme involved, or by
17 agreement between any members of the conspiracy was intended to involve, two
18 or more predicate acts of racketeering.” United States v. Zemlyansky, 908 F.3d 1,10
1 11 (2d Cir. 2018). Because each offense contains at least one element not
2 contained in the other, we are persuaded that the charging component of the
3 Double Jeopardy Clause is not implicated here.
4 We therefore turn to the second component of double jeopardy, sometimes
5 described as the “issue preclusion” component, which is more relevant to this
6 appeal. It “precludes the Government from relitigating any issue that was
7 necessarily decided by a jury’s acquittal in a prior trial.” Yeager v. United States,
8 557 U.S. 110, 119 (2009). Put another way, “a jury verdict that necessarily
9 decided [an] issue in [a defendant’s] favor protects him from prosecution for any
10 charge for which that [issue] is an essential element.” Id. at 123. The defendant
11 bears the burden of persuading “the court that the issue he seeks to foreclose was
12 necessarily decided in his favor by the prior verdict.” United States v.
13 McGowan, 58 F.3d 8, 12 (2d Cir. 1995) (quotation marks omitted). The burden of
14 persuasion “is particularly onerous where the acquittal in the first trial involves
15 the crime of conspiracy.” United States v. Clark, 613 F.2d 391, 400 (2d Cir. 1979).
16 In a different but relevant context involving the first component of double
17 jeopardy, for example, we have described how “[a] charge of a wide-ranging
18 narcotics conspiracy consisting of numerous transactions is . . . sufficiently 11
1 distinct from a charge of a substantive violation based on a single sale” that the
2 prohibition against double jeopardy permits both a prosecution for conspiracy
3 and a prosecution based on the substantive sale. United States v. Ortega4 Alvarez, 506 F.2d 455, 457–58 (2d Cir. 1974).
5 When the challenge is to the Government’s use of evidence at a retrial, the
6 defendant must show that the Government sought “to reuse the [challenged]
7 evidence for the specific purpose of proving conduct of which he was previously
8 acquitted.” Zemlyansky, 908 F.3d at 13. We assess that challenge by examining
9 “the record of a prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence,
10 charge, and other relevant matter, and conclude whether a rational jury could
11 have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which the defendant
12 seeks to foreclose from consideration.” Clark, 613 F.2d at 400 (quotation marks
13 omitted).
14 As an initial matter, Hicks’s argument that the Government was barred
15 from reusing any evidence of cocaine or cocaine base trafficking is unavailing.
16 Hicks was not charged with a substantive drug crime at his original trial. The
17 Government therefore was not required to show that he bought or sold drugs for
18 the jury to convict him of conspiring to do the same. The jury’s verdict of 12
1 acquittal as to the cocaine and cocaine base conspiracy charge reflects only that it
2 found either that the conspiracy never existed or that Hicks never joined it. See
3 Taylor, 816 F.3d at 19. In other words, Hicks’s involvement in any particular
4 cocaine or cocaine base transaction was not a fact “necessarily decided in his
5 favor by the prior verdict.” McGowan, 58 F.3d at 12 (quotation marks omitted).
6 Nor (as we explain further below) does the Government appear to have
7 introduced the challenged evidence of Hicks’s prior cocaine trafficking with the
8 “specific purpose” of proving that he had joined a cocaine conspiracy. See
9 Zemlyansky, 908 F.3d at 13. The District Court was thus free to admit that
10 evidence as proof of Hicks’s participation in the RICO conspiracy.
11 Relying on United States v. Mespoulede, Hicks argues that he was retried
12 in part on the acquitted conduct “just as if [the first] trial had never taken place.”
13 597 F.2d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 1979). Because his argument ignores the important
14 difference for a double jeopardy claim between a substantive crime and a crime
15 of conspiracy, Hicks’s reliance on Mespoulede is misplaced. In that case, the
16 defendant was first acquitted of a substantive charge of narcotics possession
17 arising from the sale of drugs on a specific date and then retried for conspiring to
18 do the same. Id. at 330–31. This Court held that it was error to admit evidence 13
1 that the defendant possessed cocaine on the same date. See id. at 335–36. We
2 explained that “the Government was free to introduce new evidence of various
3 illicit deals and to persuade the jury that it should infer the existence of a
4 conspiracy from these transactions,” but that the defendant could not be forced
5 again “to confront an assertion that he possessed cocaine” on the relevant date.
6 Id. at 335. Here, by contrast, the first jury was not required to find that Hicks
7 was involved in specific drug transactions on specific dates.
8 Following up on the same theme, Hicks submits that the District Court
9 also should have excluded evidence of the cocaine conspiracy itself, let alone his
10 involvement in that conspiracy. But here again the existence of a cocaine
11 conspiracy was not a fact necessarily decided by the jury in Hicks’s favor. As the
12 District Court observed, the jury could have found that the conspiracy existed
13 but that Hicks had not joined it. And under those circumstances, the prohibition
14 against double jeopardy would not prevent the Government from introducing
15 (or the District Court from admitting) evidence of the conspiracy itself at Hicks’s
16 retrial. See Zemlyansky, 908 F.3d at 13–14. 14
1 B
2 Hicks raises similar double jeopardy concerns stemming from the
3 Government’s summation at the retrial, during which the Government’s attorney
4 explained: “Contreras told you that they became members, right; that he came
5 up in November of 2010 with 16 kilograms of cocaine and they established what
6 the prices were going to be and how they were going to be sold . . . . [T]hey
7 established their agreement then. [Hicks] knew that he was a member, knew
8 what he was getting into.” App’x 2820. This summation, Hicks argues, used the
9 challenged evidence relating to the cocaine conspiracy for the “specific purpose”
10 of showing that he willfully joined it despite his prior acquittal. Zemlyansky,
11 908 F.3d at 13.
12 In addressing this argument, we keep in mind that “[i]t is a rare case in
13 which we will identify a prosecutor’s summation comments, even if
14 objectionable, as so prejudicial as to warrant relief from conviction.” United
15 States v. Aquart, 912 F.3d 1, 27 (2d Cir. 2018) (quotation marks omitted). Because
16 summation arguments “frequently require improvisation, courts will not lightly
17 infer that every remark is intended to carry its most dangerous meaning.” 15
1 United States v. Farhane, 634 F.3d 127, 167 (2d Cir. 2011) (quotation marks
2 omitted).
3 A fair reading of the challenged summation is that the Government
4 pointed to Contreras’s testimony to encourage the jury to find that Hicks and
5 Contreras participated in and were members of the charged RICO conspiracy,
6 not the cocaine conspiracy. After all, objects of the RICO conspiracy included
7 cocaine trafficking, as well as murder and the use of firearms. But the existence
8 of a cocaine conspiracy (as opposed to the substantive crime of cocaine
9 trafficking) was not necessary to convict Hicks for his involvement in the RICO
10 conspiracy. The prosecutor never actually referred to a cocaine conspiracy, and
11 the prosecutor’s remarks, though imprecise and perhaps infelicitous, did not
12 cross the line to encourage the jury to find that Hicks was a member of a cocaine
13 conspiracy separate and apart from the RICO conspiracy. Although a close call,
14 we conclude that the Government did not seek “to reuse the evidence for the
15 specific purpose of proving conduct of which he was previously acquitted.”
16 Zemlyansky, 908 F.3d at 13 (emphasis added).
17 Nor, in any event, were the prosecutor’s remarks “so prejudicial as to
18 warrant relief from conviction.” Aquart, 912 F.3d at 27. Before the retrial Hicks 16
1 had urged the District Court to exclude all evidence of a cocaine conspiracy on
2 double jeopardy grounds. The District Court denied the motion because (as we
3 have noted above) the jury could have determined that a cocaine conspiracy
4 existed but that Hicks never joined it. During the Government’s summation,
5 however, Hicks failed to object to the prosecutor’s arguably contrary suggestion
6 that he had joined the conspiracy. Hicks’s failure to object means that we review
7 only for plain error—that “there was an error that is clear or obvious, [and] that
8 the error affected [his] substantial rights, which in the ordinary case means it
9 affected the outcome of the district proceedings; and the error seriously affects
10 the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” United States
11 v. Williams, 690 F.3d 70, 77 (2d Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).
12 Here, the Government was under no obligation to show that Hicks
13 committed or agreed to commit any of the predicate acts charged in the RICO
14 conspiracy count. It needed to prove only that Hicks “intended that the broad
15 goals of the racketeering scheme be realized, along with evidence that some (or
16 any) members of the conspiracy intended that specific criminal acts be
17 accomplished.” Zemlyansky, 908 F.3d at 11. At both the first trial and the retrial,
18 there was strong evidence that Hicks and other Schuele Boys gang members 17
1 were involved in Balance’s murder, the distribution of marijuana, and the use of
2 firearms. So the jury’s verdict was amply supported by evidence separate and
3 apart from the challenged evidence of Hicks’s participation in a cocaine
4 conspiracy with Contreras. We therefore conclude that the Government’s
5 arguably objectionable (but unobjected to) summation comments did not impact
6 the outcome of Hicks’s retrial or affect his substantial rights.
7 II
8 On appeal, Hicks continues to insist that the District Court erred when it
9 severed his trial. He argues that Judge Arcara should have disqualified
10 Arrington’s conflicted counsel (LoTempio) and held a joint trial. We disagree,
11 largely because “[t]he decision to sever [a trial] . . . is committed to the sound
12 discretion of the trial judge, and we will not override an exercise of that
13 discretion absent clear abuse.” United States v. Delgado, 972 F.3d 63, 81 (2d Cir.
14 2020) (quotation marks omitted).
15 This Court has previously considered the potential conflict presented by
16 LoTempio’s representation of Arrington—after having represented Hicks in one
17 of the charged overt acts—in United States v. Arrington, 941 F.3d 24 (2d Cir.
18 2019). As mentioned, Arrington asked to keep LoTempio as his counsel at a joint 18
1 trial with Hicks, notwithstanding the potential conflict. Hicks asked to
2 disqualify LoTempio rather than sever the trials. The District Court severed the
3 trial because it was “[t]he only apparent way to protect” the rights of both Hicks
4 and Arrington. Sp. App’x 19. In particular, the court said, “disqualification of . .
5 . LoTempio . . . would violate . . . Arrington’s Sixth Amendment right to be
6 represented by the counsel of his choice.” Id. In our decision on appeal, we
7 explained that “LoTempio . . . represented Hicks with respect to one of the overt
8 acts in the indictment, and he was therefore barred from using the fruits of that
9 representation to benefit Arrington or from fully cross-examining witnesses
10 about related events. The effects of this conflict would have been magnified had
11 Hicks testified in his own defense at a joint trial.” Arrington, 941 F.3d at 41. We
12 also held that Arrington’s decision to waive the conflict and to retain LoTempio
13 was not knowing and intelligent because he had never been properly apprised of
14 “the main strategic disadvantages arising from LoTempio’s conflict”—that
15 Arrington’s trial would be severed from his co-defendant’s and that he would
16 proceed to trial first. Id. at 42–43.
17 On this appeal, Hicks points to our prior holding to suggest that Arrington
18 did not ever meaningfully choose LoTempio as his counsel. He argues that the 19
1 District Court was thus compelled to disqualify LoTempio as a less drastic
2 alternative to severance, even though we have held that district courts “have
3 broad latitude in making a decision whether to disqualify a defendant’s chosen
4 counsel.” United States v. Cain, 671 F.3d 271, 294 (2d Cir. 2012) (quotation marks
5 omitted).
6 Hicks’s argument assumes that Arrington would have rejected LoTempio
7 had he been properly informed of the pitfalls of not doing so. Nothing in the
8 record supports that assumption. More importantly, Hicks’s argument also
9 assumes that he had a “discernible right” to a joint trial with Arrington. But like
10 Arrington, he did not. Arrington, 941 F.3d at 42 (“Arrington had no discernible
11 right to proceed to trial with or after Hicks.” (citing Zafiro v. United States, 506
12 U.S. 534, 539–40 (1993))). And in the absence of a clear right to a joint trial and
13 faced with an unpalatable alternative that potentially would have violated
14 Arrington’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice, it was not an abuse
15 of discretion for the District Court to sever the trials.

Outcome: We have considered Hicks’s remaining arguments and conclude that they
are without sufficient merit to warrant reversal. For the foregoing reasons, we
AFFIRM the judgment of the District Court

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


Find a Lawyer


Find a Case