Monday, April 12, 2010

RICO, VICAR Convictions Affirmed

US v. Ayala: Ayala and his codefendant, Velasquez, were charged with racketeering and violent crimes in aid of racketeering (VICAR) - assault with a dangerous weapon for both defendants, conspiracy to commit murder only for Ayala. Both were also charged with using a firearm in connection with a crime of violence, although based on different incidents. A jury convicted them on all counts. Ayala was sentenced to 420 months in prison, Velasquez to 444 months in prison.

Both Ayala and Velasquez raised numerous issues in the Fourth Circuit, which affirmed their convictions and sentences. First, Ayala argued that his VICAR conviction for conspiracy to commit murder violated Double Jeopardy because it was part of the same course of conduct as the larger RICO conspiracy. Applying the Blockburger test, the court disagreed, holding that the two conspiracies were separate offenses. Second, Ayala argued that his 924(c) conviction was improper as the RICO conspiracy was not a "crime of violence," as argued by the Government at trial. The court disagreed, noting that "[t]o determine whether the objectives of this conspiracy were violent crimes . . . is intrinsic to the indictment itself" which set forth a pattern of violent racketeering activities including murder, kidnapping, and robbery. Third, the court rejected various arguments Ayala made with regards to evidentiary issues, including the admission of another conspirators statements, evidence of Ayala's guilty plea in state court, and statements made by Ayala (and others) before a state grand jury. Velasquez raised one argument, that the district court erred by limiting his cross examination of the victims of two gang rapes (the crime of violence for his 924(c) charge). The court rejected that argument, concluding that the record demonstrated "an entirely different story." Finally, both defendants argued that the district court erred by allowing the testimony of three expert witnesses who relied, in part, on statements from unnamed declarents in forming their opinions. The court rejected that argument, holding that such testimony does not violate the Confrontation Clause.

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