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United States v. Locascio - 6 F.3d 924 (2d Cir. 1993)

Rule:

In deciding a motion for disqualification of counsel, the district court recognizes a presumption in favor of the accused's chosen counsel, although this presumption can be overcome by a showing of an actual conflict or potentially serious conflict.

Facts:

Defendants John Gotti and Frank Locascio were convicted after a jury trial in federal district court of substantive and conspiracy violations of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C.S §§ 1962(c) and (d), as well as various predicate acts that were charged as separate counts. They were each principally sentenced to life imprisonment. The charges stemmed from their involvement with the Gambino Crime Family of La Cosa Nostra, an extensive criminal organization. The district court denied their post-trial motion for a new trial. On appeal, Gotti and Locascio challenged, inter alia, the government's successful motion to sequester an anonymous jury; the government's successful motion to disqualify counsel for both Gotti and Locascio for various conflicts of interest; and Locascio's unsuccessful motion to sever his trial.

Issue:

Did the district court err in disqualifying defendants' counsel for conflicts of interest, sequestering an anonymous jury and denying Locascio's motion to sever his trial?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court of appeals affirmed the district court's judgment. The court ruled, inter alia, that the district court properly exercised its discretion in determining that defendants' counsel should be disqualified because: (1) Gotti's counsel allegedly entangled himself to an extraordinary degree in the activities of the Gambino Crime Family, and; Locascio's counsel was in-house counsel Gambino Crime Family, and he was a potential witness at trial. Sequestration of the jury was not error where the district court adequately explained to the jury that protective measures were needed because of undue publicity and that sequester was necessary because of the potential for jury tampering. Finally, the court ruled that the district court properly denied Locascio's motion to sever his trial from Gotti's because: (1) the mere "size" of a trial was insufficient to warrant severance, and regardless, the case involved only two defendants, and Locascio was charged in eight of thirteen counts; (2) Locascio's claim of "disparity of proof prejudice" was meritless in that he was not a minor participant in the alleged crimes, and; (3) Locascio failed to carry his burden and show that any "spillover prejudice" constituted a miscarriage of justice.

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