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United States v. Watts

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 21, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES NATHANIEL WATTS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant James Nathaniel Watts's motion to have his jury selected from the county of the alleged offense (Alexander County, Illinois) and to prevent the transformation of the racial demographics of the venire (Doc. 363). In his motion, Watts argues that 18 U.S.C. § 3235 requires that the jury in this capital case be selected exclusively from Alexander County. The Government has responded to the motion (Doc. 387).

         I. Background

         Watts has been charged in this case in a two-count Indictment (Doc. 15). Count 1 charges Watts with the May 15, 2014, attempted armed bank robbery of the First National Bank in Cairo, Illinois, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a), (d) and (e). The indictment further alleges that in attempting to rob the bank Watts used dangerous weapons to assault or put in jeopardy the life of another person and, in fact, killed Anita Grace and Nita Smith. Count 2 charges Watts with possessing a firearm as a felon.

         Because the indictment alleges that death resulted from the attempted bank robbery, the possible penalty should Watts be convicted of Count 1 is death or life imprisonment. See 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e). The Government seeks the death penalty under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-98, and accordingly, pursuant to § 3593(a), has filed a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty (Doc. 92).

         The offenses charged in the Indictment were alleged to have occurred in Alexander County, which is within the Southern District of Illinois. The trial is scheduled to take place at the federal courthouse in Benton, Illinois. Pursuant to the Court's Plan for the Random Selection of Jurors (“Jury Plan”), the Court must select jurors for all cases tried in Benton from twenty-seven counties - including Alexander County - within the Southern District. The Jury Plan designates these counties as the Benton Division. The Benton courthouse is the only operational courthouse within the Benton Division.

         II. Analysis

         A. Relevant Constitutional and Statutory Provisions

         Both the Constitution and the laws of the United States have provisions relating to location of the trial of, or selection of jurors in, criminal cases. Provisions requiring that jurors be selected from areas in relation to the site of the charged offense are often referred to as vicinage requirements.

         The issue is first addressed in Article III of the Constitution, which provides that, generally, a defendant must be tried in the state of the offense: “The Trial of All Crimes . . . shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 3 (emphasis added). The Sixth Amendment adds the requirement that the jurors be drawn from the predetermined judicial district where the offense was committed:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law. . . .

         U.S. Const. amend. VI (emphasis added). The principle that a defendant should be tried by the community is one of the fundamental principles of our judicial system. Accordingly, the Supreme Court has read into the Sixth Amendment a guarantee that a jury will be composed of a fair cross-section of the community, Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 530 (1975), and Congress has codified that requirement in the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968 (“JSSA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1861 et seq.

         The statute at the heart of Watts's motion further expresses a preference for holding a capital criminal ...


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