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United States v. Cousins

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 7, 2014



AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Before the court is the motion of defendant David Cousins for discovery concerning selective prosecution. The court denies defendant's motion in large part but grants limited discovery, for the reasons explained below, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' manual regarding the identification of targets in its stash-house robbery sting operations.


On December 6, 2012, the grand jury returned an indictment charging David Cousins and his two co-defendants, Michael Cousins and Dunwon Lloyd, with conspiring to commit a robbery affecting interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (Count One); conspiring to knowingly and intentionally possess five kilograms or more of cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (Count Two); and knowingly possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and a drug-trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (Count Three).[1] Count Four charged David Cousins and Count Five charged Lloyd with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Law enforcement agents arrested the defendants on November 6, 2012 as part of a stash-house robbery sting operation. The stash house did not exist, and the defendants' partner turned out to be an undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF").

In the present motion, David Cousins ("Cousins") seeks discovery concerning the targeting of persons and the use of informants in stash-house investigations. Cousins's contention that he might have a "possible defense of selective prosecution and racial profiling, "[2] Mot. at 5, is based on the statistics on the racial makeup of the defendants in this case and sixteen other phony-stash-house cases that, since 2006, the ATF has investigated and the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois has prosecuted. In support of his motion, Cousins provides a list of those cases and information about the race of the defendants: 42 defendants are African American, 8 are Latino, and 7 are white. Cousins emphasizes that in the cases filed since 2010, 19 defendants are African American, 7 are Latino, and none are white. He contends that "[t]hese statistics... present a stark discriminatory picture." (Mot. at 4.)

Cousins argues that the court should authorize discovery related to his purported defenses of selective prosecution and selective enforcement pursuant to United States v. Armstrong , 517 U.S. 456 (1996), or Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16. In his motion, Cousins seeks discovery of eleven categories of information or documents, including a list of all phony-stash-house sting cases (by case name, number, and the race of each defendant) brought by the United States Attorney's Office for this district from 2006 to the present in which the ATF was the federal investigatory agency; all national and Chicago Field Office ATF manuals concerning phony-stash-house investigations, including protocols and directions to agents; and all documents that contain information on how supervisors and managers of the Chicago-area ATF seek to ensure or did ensure that its agents were not targeting minorities. (Mot. at 5-7.) In his reply brief, however, Cousins requests discovery of "[a]ll documents the government has produced in discovery in" 12 CR 887 and 12 CR 632 in compliance with Chief Judge Castillo's orders on selective-prosecution and selective-enforcement discovery, as well as "[a]ll documents the government has... produce[d] in discovery" in 13 CR 63 in compliance with Judge Darrah's October 30, 2013 order. (Reply at 3-4.)


A. United States v. Armstrong

The Supreme Court considered the showing that a defendant must make to obtain discovery on a selective prosecution claim in Armstrong , 517 U.S. 456. As the Supreme Court explained, the Attorney General and United States Attorneys, as delegates of the President, retain "broad discretion" to enforce federal criminal laws, and "in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, courts presume that they have properly discharged their official duties." Id. at 464. "In the ordinary case, so long as the prosecutor has probable cause to believe that the accused committed an offense defined by statute, the decision whether or not to prosecute, and what charge to file or bring before a grand jury, generally rests entirely in his discretion.'" Id . (quoting Bordenkircher v. Hayes , 434 U.S. 357, 364 (1978)).

A prosecutor's discretion, however, must yield to constitutional constraints, including the equal-protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Id . (citing Bolling v. Sharpe , 347 U.S. 497, 500 (1954)). Thus, a prosecutor must not base a decision whether to prosecute on "an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification." Id . (quoting Oyler v. Boles , 368 U.S. 448, 456 (1962)). To overcome the presumption that a prosecutor has not violated equal protection, a criminal defendant must present "clear evidence to the contrary." Id. at 465. Specifically, "[t]he claimant must demonstrate that the federal prosecutorial policy had a discriminatory effect and that it was motivated by a discriminatory purpose.'" Id . (citation omitted). To establish discriminatory effect in a race case, the defendant must show that "similarly situated individuals of a different race were not prosecuted." Id.

Furthermore, due to the onerous nature of discovery on selective prosecution claims, the Supreme Court held that the "justifications for a rigorous standard for the elements of a selective-prosecution claim... require a correspondingly rigorous standard for discovery in aid of such a claim." Id. at 468. Therefore, to obtain discovery on a selective prosecution claim, a criminal defendant must show "some evidence of both discriminatory effect and discriminatory intent." United States v. Bass , 536 U.S. 862, 863 (2002) (citing Armstrong , 517 U.S. at 465). Under Armstrong, the defendant's showing must include "evidence that similarly situated defendants of other races could have been prosecuted, but were not...." Armstrong , 517 U.S. at 469. The Supreme Court decided that this threshold "adequately balances the Government's interest in vigorous prosecution and the defendant's interest in avoiding selective prosecution." Id. at 470.

Although Armstrong dealt only with a selective prosecution claim, a defendant seeking discovery on a selective enforcement claim also must make the showing Armstrong requires. United States v. Barlow , 310 F.3d 1007, 1010 (7th Cir. 2002) ("[T]he same analysis governs both [selective prosecution and selective enforcement] claims: a defendant seeking discovery on a selective enforcement claim must meet the same ordinary equal protection standards' that Armstrong outlines for selective prosecution claims."). Thus, to establish discriminatory effect with respect to a selective enforcement claim, "an African American claimant must demonstrate that a law or regulation was enforced against him, but not against similarly situated individuals of other races." Id . (citing Armstrong , 517 U.S. at 465).

B. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure ...

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