U.S. v. Edelin

Decision Date09 March 2001
Docket NumberNo. CRIM 98-264 RCL.,CRIM 98-264 RCL.
Citation134 F.Supp.2d 59
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, v. Tommy EDELIN, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Cary Clennon, Washington, DC, for Defendant Bostick.

Pleasant S. Brodnax, Washington, DC, for Defendant Tommy Edelin.

James W. Rudasill, Jr., Washington, DC, for Defendant Tommy Edelin.

Richard K. Gilbert, Washington, DC, for Defendant Johnson.

Christopher Davis, Washington, DC, for Defendant Earl Edelin.

Shawn Moore, Federal Public Defender for D.C., Washington, DC, for Defendant Marbury.

Jensen Barber, Washington, DC, for Defendant Mosley.

William M. Sullivan, Asst. U.S. Atty.'s, Stephen Pfleger, Paul Quander, Washington, DC, for the Government.


LAMBERTH, District Judge.

This comes before the Court upon defendant Tommy Edelin's Motions to Preclude the Death Penalty, to Dismiss the Government's Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty, to Strike Aggravating Factors, to Request an Evidentiary Hearing on the Sufficiency of the Statutory and Non-statutory Aggravating Factors Alleged by the Government, to Strike the Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty Because of Racial Discrimination in the Government's Capital Charging Practices, and for Discovery. Defendant Edelin argues that 21 U.S.C. § 848 is unconstitutional for a variety of reasons, and challenges the statute as applied to him. Defendant Edelin also challenges the structure of the capital sentencing proceedings he will face if he is found guilty of any of the three capital charges against him.

Defendant Edelin has filed numerous challenges to the constitutionality of 21 U.S.C. § 848, including ten Motions to preclude the death penalty on the basis of the unconstitutionality of the Anti-Drug Abuse and Death Penalty Act of 1988 [hereinafter ADAA], six motions challenging the application of the death penalty and the validity of the government's Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty in this case, one Motion requesting an evidentiary hearing as to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the aggravating factors listed in the government's Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty, and one Motion to Strike the Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty Because of Racial Discrimination. After reviewing the defendant's Motions, the Oppositions of the government, and the decisions of other courts with regards to the constitutionality of 21 U.S.C. § 848, the defendant's Motions are hereby DENIED.

I. Background

Defendant Tommy Edelin is charged in a one hundred and three count Superseding Indictment. He will be tried, beginning March 26, 2001, with five co-defendants. The defendants are charged with the following crimes: conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, fifty grams or more of cocaine base, and one kilogram or more of heroin; continuing criminal enterprise; conspiracy to participate in a racketeer influenced corrupt organization; first degree murder while armed; continuing criminal enterprise murder; assault with intent to murder while armed; assault with a dangerous weapon; use of a firearm; and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, among other crimes.

Each of the six defendants in this case is charged with at least one count of capital murder, but the government is only seeking the death penalty against defendant Tommy Edelin. Defendant Edelin is charged with the intentional killing of three individuals while engaging in and working in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 848(e). Defendant Edelin is also charged with counseling, commanding, inducing, procuring, and/or causing the murders of eleven other individuals, and fourteen assaults with intent to murder. These charges are in addition to five counts of solicitation of murder, one count of attempted murder, and four counts of assault with intent to murder.

On June 30, 2000, the Government filed a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty, in accordance with Section 848(h), and stated therein its intent to seek the death penalty if defendant Tommy Edelin is convicted on Counts Twelve, Fourteen, and/or Sixteen of the Superseding Indictment. The Government has also provided the defendant with a specific list of statutory and non-statutory aggravating factors it will seek to prove as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty.

II. Defendant's Motion to Preclude the Death Penalty: Constitutionality of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act

Defendant Edelin's challenges to 21 U.S.C. § 848 are substantially similar to challenges raised in this District by the defendant in United States v. Cooper, 91 F.Supp.2d 90 (D.D.C.2000). Although the defendant in Cooper was charged under the Federal Death Penalty Act, many of the statutory provisions, and the defendants' challenges to them, are identical. The Court finds that the defendant's arguments against the death penalty, although rooted in a sincere belief that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, ignore the controlling authority of decisions by the United States Supreme Court. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976); McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 107 S.Ct. 1756, 95 L.Ed.2d 262 (1987); United States v. Jones 132 F.3d 232 (5th Cir.1998) (upholding constitutionality of death penalty and affirming death sentence imposed under sentencing procedures of Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-98), aff'd, 527 U.S. 373, 119 S.Ct. 2090, 144 L.Ed.2d 370 (1999). Similarly, many of the defendant's arguments against the constitutionality of the provisions in the ADAA ignore the decisions of other courts whose decisions are based on well-reasoned analysis and legal precedent. See United States v. Frank, 8 F.Supp.2d 253, 260-61 (S.D.N.Y.1998) (collecting "growing body" of federal cases which have considered constitutional challenges to the two federal death penalty acts and have, "without exception," upheld their constitutionality).1 This Court cannot ignore the decisions of the Supreme Court, nor will it ignore the compelling decisions of other courts upholding the constitutionality and legitimacy of the ADAA and the capital sentencing procedures established by statute and case law.

The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the procedures for sentencing a person to death must be subject to "heightened standards of reliability"2 and further established that "death is different"3 from other penalties that can be imposed for criminal wrongdoing. Defendant Edelin argues that the safeguards implemented by various courts for procedures used during capital sentencing are not sufficient to ensure the constitutionality of the penalty. The Court finds that the safeguards established within the ADAA, combined with the procedures implemented by courts which have interpreted the ADAA, and viewed through the lens of Supreme Court jurisprudence, are sufficient to protect the constitutional rights of the defendant. The rights of the defendant must be protected when he faces the most serious of penalties, to ensure that the result of the sentencing be accurate and reliable; the proper application of 21 U.S.C. § 848 protects the constitutional rights of defendant Edelin.

The death penalty cannot be constitutionally applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972). The discretion of the sentencing jury must be suitably "directed and limited so as to minimize the risk of wholly arbitrary and capricious action." Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 874, 103 S.Ct. 2733, 77 L.Ed.2d 235 (1983) (internal citations omitted). It is also crucial, however, that each defendant facing the death penalty be considered as an individual, and that he receive "particularized consideration of all relevant aspects" of his character before the death penalty is imposed on him. Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 303, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976), Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325, 96 S.Ct. 3001, 49 L.Ed.2d 974 (1976).

The statute under which defendant Tommy Edelin is charged, 21 U.S.C. § 848, balances the competing interests present in a death penalty case by applying the death penalty fairly and to a narrow class of individuals while also providing for individualized sentencing of the defendant. Defendant Edelin is eligible for the death penalty because he allegedly killed, procured, or caused the intentional killing of three different individuals, while engaged in or working in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise. The death penalty is being sought against him because he is death-eligible and because the Attorney General made a decision to seek the death penalty in his case. Defendant Edelin's rights are further protected by the additional safeguards within the ADAA that balance his interests against the interests of the government. The Court finds that the ADAA is constitutional.

A) Narrowing of the Category of Persons Eligible for the Death Penalty

Defendant Edelin next argues that the ADAA is unconstitutional because it fails to narrow the class of persons to whom the death penalty applies. The statutory scheme of 21 U.S.C. § 848, however, specifically narrows the category of individuals who are eligible for the death penalty.4 The statute uses successive steps to narrow the broad category of all murderers to those who have committed murder in the furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise. The category is further narrowed to those murderers who killed with one of the intent factors listed in Section 848(n)(1). The intent element must be found beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury as an aggravating factor. The government must then convince the jury that at least one additional statutory aggravating factor, set forth in Sections 848(n)(2) through (n)(...

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