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Jorge Torrez Prosecution Trifurcation Motion

Jorge Torrez Prosecution Trifurcation Motion

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Published by Emily Babay

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Published by: Emily Babay on May 02, 2012
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THEEASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIAAlexandria DivisionUNITED STATES OF AMERICAv.JORGE AVILA TORREZ))))) No. 1:11cr115 (LO)
MOTION OF THE UNITED STATESREGARDING TRIFURCATION OF THE TRIAL
The United States, through the undersigned counsel, hereby proposes that the Courttrifurcate the trial of this case – a guilt phase followed, if convicted, by two distinct penalty phases.The Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) on its face provides for bifurcation — a jury(unless the parties agree to proceed before the Court alone) first determines a defendant’s guiltand then, in a separate hearing, determines whether a convicted defendant should be sentenced todeath. 18 U.S.C. § 3593(b). The issue discussed below is whether the Court should further  bifurcate the penalty phase — the first part involving “eligibility” (whether the defendant isstatutorily eligible for a death sentence) and the second involving “selection” (whether thedefendant merits a death sentence). Although the Government believes that a unitary penalty phase, as envisioned by the FDPA, would pass appellate scrutiny, we propose bifurcation of the penalty phase — between eligibility and selection — because there is legal precedent for  bifurcation along these lines and the facts of this particular prosecution warrant proceeding insuch a fashion. This issue, we suggest, should be decided now, as different evidentiary standardsmay apply to the eligibility and selection phases, and an early decision on this issue will allow
Case 1:11-cr-00115-LO Document 64 Filed 04/30/12 Page 1 of 8 PageID# 196
 
the parties to structure and organize more efficiently their penalty phase evidence, in the eventthe defendant is convicted of the capital offense.
I.THE ELIGIBILITY AND SELECTIONCOMPONENTS OF THE PENALTY PHASE
The Supreme Court has identified two distinct phases of the capital sentencing process:the eligibility phase and the selection phase.
 Buchanan v. Angelone
, 522 U.S. 269, 275 (1998).In the eligibility phase, the jury narrows the class of defendants eligible for the death penalty.
 Id 
.In the selection phase, the jury determines whether a death sentence should be imposed on the particular defendant that it has found eligible.
 Id 
. This construct is reflected in the FDPA.
SeeUnited States v. Perez 
, 2004 WL 935260, at *4 (D. Conn. 2004) (describing the FDPA asnarrowing the class of persons eligible for the death penalty in two ways: statutory intent factorsand then statutory aggravating factors).
A.The Eligibility Component
A defendant is not eligible for a death sentence unless certain statutory criteria aresatisfied. First, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant wasmore than 18 years old at the time of the murder and that the defendant acted with any one of four mental states specified in the FDPA.
See
18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(A)-(D). Second, theGovernment must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of at least one statutoryaggravating factor.
See
18 U.S.C. § 3592(c)(1)-(16). In the wake of 
 Ring v. Arizona
, 536 U.S.584 (2002), all of these eligibility factors operate as the functional equivalent of elements of theoffense and are treated as such.
United States v. Barnette
, 390 F.3d 775, 784 (4th Cir. 2004)(“the
 Ring 
Court made clear that when a statute requires the finding of an aggravating factor as a-2-
Case 1:11-cr-00115-LO Document 64 Filed 04/30/12 Page 2 of 8 PageID# 197
 
condition to imposition of the death penalty, the aggravating factor requirement functions as anelement of the offense”),
vacated and remanded on other grounds
, 546 U.S. 803 (2005).In this case, the gateway factors consist of the following:A.The defendant, JORGE AVILA TORREZ, was 18 years of age or older at the timeof the offense. 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a).B.The defendant, JORGE AVILA TORREZ, intentionally killed the victim,Amanda Jean Snell. 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(A).C.The defendant, JORGE AVILA TORREZ, intentionally inflicted serious bodilyinjury that resulted in the death of the victim, Amanda Jean Snell. 18 U.S.C. §3591(a)(2)(B).D.The defendant, JORGE AVILA TORREZ, intentionally participated in an act,contemplating that the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethalforce would be used in connection with a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, and the victim, Amanda Jean Snell, died as a directresult of the act.
 
18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(C).E.The defendant, JORGE AVILA TORREZ, intentionally and specifically engagedin an act of violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death to a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, such that participation inthe act constituted a reckless disregard for human life and Amanda Jean Snell diedas a direct result of the act. 18 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2)(D).The statutory aggravating factors consist of the following:A.Previous Conviction of Violent Felony Involving Firearm (18 U.S.C. §3592(c)(2)). The defendant, JORGE AVILA TORREZ, has previously beenconvicted of a Federal or State offense punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than one year, involving the use or attempted or threatened use of a firearm(as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921) against another person, namely:1.Use of a Firearm in Felony, Case No. 10-505, in the Circuit Court of Arlington County, Virginia (the abduction and robbery of M.N. onFebruary 10, 2010).2.Use of a Firearm in Felony, Case No. 10-593, in the Circuit Court of Arlington County, Virginia (the robbery of K.M. on February 27, 2010).-3-
Case 1:11-cr-00115-LO Document 64 Filed 04/30/12 Page 3 of 8 PageID# 198

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