Rhode Island Superior Court Judge refuses to sever trial of defense lawyer

The Trial of two Rhode Island Criminal Defense Lawyers charged with conspiracy, bribery and obstruction of justice raises the issue of when two defendants can be tried together. As an Attleboro criminal defense lawyer, this trial has raised interesting issue of the joint trial of two defendants and when a judge should recuse himself from hearing a case.

The Providence Superior Court found itself addressing these very same circumstances after the Grand Jury indicted a stabbing suspect, his defense attorney, and a second defense attorney with obstructing administration of justice, conspiracy to obstruct the judicial system, bribery of a witness and conspiracy to bribe a witness. After sentencing one of the attorneys to six years imprisonment for his role in the conspiracy on September 11, the court refused to sever the second attorney’s proceedings from the stabbing suspect.

Defense attorney Donna Uhlmann is now preparing to stand alongside stabbing suspect Jamaal Dublin during the trial scheduled for September 23, 2013. Ms. Uhlmann and Mr. Dublin are accused of conspiring to bribe a witness that Mr. Dublin allegedly stabbed to prevent him from testifying against Mr. Dublin. Mr. Dublin’s lawyer urged the court to sever his trial from Ms. Uhlmann’s because he anticipates that much of the evidence that will be raised would be against the defense attorney, Ms. Uhlmann, and so would confuse the jurors from being able to differentiate between the actions of the defense attorney and the actions of Mr. Dublin.

  • When should a judge sever the trial of two alleged conspirators?

The court refused the request for severance, ruling that the “spillover effect” does not justify the two defendants who were indicted together to be tried separately. This decision poses serious questions about the fairness of the trial against both parties, especially Mr. Dublin, if he was indeed correct in his assumption that much of the testimony would be raised against Mr. Uhlmann only.

Along with a defendant’s constitutional right to legal counsel, the defendant is also entitled to a fair trial. If by prosecuting the two defendants simultaneously the evidence raised against one defendant will unfairly taint the other defendant, the effect would ultimately be to unfairly prejudice the jury against the defendant against whom the evidence raised will not apply. The prejudiced defendant may therefore be convicted – not on the crimes which he had committed, but because of the association the jury may build linking him to the evidence raised during the same trial against his co-conspirator.

The law governing crimes of conspiracy and complicity is complex and controversial. Most courts will hold a defendant accountable for the conduct of a co-conspirator who commits a crime, despite the defendant not having assisted in the commission of the crime. The main requirement is that the crime committed be in furtherance of an agreement between the conspirators, regardless of who actually commits the crime. However, by prosecuting Ms. Uhlmann and Mr. Dublin simultaneously, the court risks prejudicing each defendant by allowing the jury to use evidence relevant to only one defendant when deliberating the fates of both.

If convicted, the judge’s decision allowing the defendant to be tried together will be a strong issue for appeal as well as the judge’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to recuse the judge from hearing the case based on remarks made in sentencing defense lawyer Donley, who has already been convicted by a jury. The judge’s remarks at sentencing of Donley create a perception that he believes the defendant’s about to stand trial are guilty. Fundamental fairness would seem to require the judge to recuse himself and let another judge hear the case.

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