UNITED STATES v. TORTORA Nos. 496, 642, Dockets 71-2114, 72-1170.
464 F.2d 1202 (1972)
UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. John TORTORA, Appellant. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Samuel SANTORO, Appellant.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Decided July 24, 1972.
Irving Anolik, New York City, of counsel to Lanna, Coppola & Rosato, Yonkers, for appellant Santoro.
Before CLARK, Associate Justice, LUMBARD and KAUFMAN, Circuit Judges.
LUMBARD, Circuit Judge:
Samuel Santoro and John Tortora were found guilty after a jury trial in the Southern District on fifteen counts of engaging in loanshark operations in violation of the federal Extortionate Credit Statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 892-94, and on one count of conspiring so to do.
Appellants seek reversal of their convictions on several grounds, principal among them being Santoro's claim that his trial could not proceed in his absence.
The indictment charged that Santoro and Tortora, along with Joseph Chiaverini,
The scheme began in November 1969 when Formiglia, a jeweler, borrowed $400 from Santoro, promising to pay $40 a week interest until the $400 principal was repaid. Shortly after this first loan was made Formiglia wanted additional money, but did not want to borrow it under his own name. Thus he conceived the idea of borrowing from Santoro on the pretext that he himself was relending the money at usurious rates. Beginning in early December 1969, Santoro made additional loans to Formiglia, amounting to approximately $11,000 by the middle of February 1970. Tortora frequently was present when these loans were made. Ratteni was present at two of the transactions.
By late February 1970, Santoro suspected that Formiglia was not actually relending the money. Chiaverini was delegated to go with Formiglia on his next collection date to visit his "customers." When Formiglia protested that his customers might not like this arrangement, Santoro said, "We'll go around and collect the f____' money or we'll break their heads if they don't pay us."
Formiglia feigned sickness on the collection date, but this merely confirmed Santoro's suspicions that Formiglia's customers were nonexistent and that the "loans" were only a pretense to cover Formiglia's own borrowing. Santoro met with Formiglia and threatened to split Formiglia's tongue or put a "bullet through [his] head" unless the money was repaid.
A few days later Tortora went to the jewelry store where Formiglia worked and told him, "My man, you are in a lot of trouble . . . what are you going to do about these f____ loans." No arrangements for repayment were made, however. Later that day Santoro telephoned Formiglia, who said that he was going out of town, whereupon Santoro replied, "Have a good time because it's your last trip." The next week Tortora went to Formiglia's store and told him to show up at a meeting at Genaro's fish market regarding repayment of the loans or Tortora would "drag [him] up by [his] head."
Frightened by these threats, Formiglia called the Yonkers Sheriff's office and was instructed to telephone Tortora and delay the meeting one day. The Sheriff's office then recorded the conversation.
Wearing a hidden tape recorder supplied by the Sheriff's office, Formiglia met with Tortora the following day at the fish market. Tortora accused Formiglia of juggling the loans and suggested that to repay the loans Formiglia might have to rob a store. Tortora then telephoned Santoro and put Formiglia on the line. Santoro said that if Formiglia did not pay he would break Formiglia's wife's head and burn down his house. Tortora then told Formiglia that he better work out a deal to repay the money.
The next day Formiglia arranged to go to Santoro's house, ostensibly to repay the loans. He brought with him money supplied by the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. After Formiglia had been in the house a short while, investigators from the District Attorney's Office entered and arrested Santoro with his hands on the money. Tortora was later arrested by the FBI.
Both Santoro and Tortora pleaded not guilty to the indictments in January 1971 and were released on bail. The case was called for trial on April 15, 1971. At that time Judge Pollack was advised that the attorney for the government had trial commitments in May, and that the attorney for Ratteni also had trials during May and another set for June 21. Additionally, a government agent assigned to the case was unavailable between July 17 and July 24.
Lanna wrote to the court on July 21 that Santoro had refused other counsel and insisted that Lanna represent him. The trial judge notified Lanna that the trial would proceed as scheduled and that he was not relieved of his duties as counsel.
The case was called for trial on August 10 with 100 veniremen present. The Government, Genaro and Ratteni were ready. Tortora and Chiaverini were absent, having been hospitalized allegedly for bronchitis and back pains respectively. The court revoked bail and issued bench warrants for their arrest. Santoro was present with Rosato, but Lanna was absent on military duty. The court then assigned Rosato to represent Santoro, but said that an additional attorney would be appointed if Santoro or Rosato desired. Santoro later accepted the court's offer and Mark Landsman was assigned as an additional defense attorney. The court then reset the trial date for August 16.
On August 16 Tortora was brought to court. Dr. George Grayson, chief resident of the Chest Center at Bellevue Hospital, testified that Tortora was able to participate in his defense. After hearing this testimony and observing Tortora, the court ruled that he was competent to stand trial.
The remainder of the defendants, except for Santoro, were also present.
The court found that the trial of the case had commenced on August 10 and that, as Santoro had voluntarily and knowingly absented himself from the trial, there was no reason not to continue the trial with him as a defendant. Santoro was thus tried along with Tortora, Chiaverini, Genaro, and Ratteni.
The Government's case consisted mainly of Formiglia's testimony and the taped conversations among Formiglia, Tortora and Santoro.
On Thursday, August 19, while the Government was still presenting its case, the court told the attorneys for the defendants that, if at all possible, testimony was to be concluded that week even if it meant a Saturday court day and that the defendants should have their witnesses present and ready to testify. On Friday the Government rested and Ratteni and Chiaverini each presented three witnesses and concluded their cases. Tortora's counsel told the court that he was unable to proceed at that time because Genaro's counsel had mistakenly sent one of Tortora's five witnesses home and the others weren't present. No showing was made as to what the absent witnesses would have testified. The court refused to grant a continuance, stating that the attorneys had been instructed to have all their witnesses present to testify in order that the trial be completed as quickly as possible.
At the close of the Government's case the court had dismissed the indictment against Genaro for insufficient evidence. The case against the remaining defendants was sent to the jury under proper instructions. The jury acquitted Chiaverini and Ratteni, but convicted Santoro and Tortora.
Tortora claims that he was improperly denied the right to present witnesses on his behalf by the court's refusal to grant a continuance on Friday afternoon. He had been advised by the court, however, to have his witnesses present and ready to testify. Apart from the witness mistakenly excused, Tortora should have had his other witnesses ready so that the trial would have been able to go forward. The witnesses were not even produced on Monday when the trial continued. Moreover, Tortora made no attempt to show that a continuance was warranted. The trial had been delayed numerous times and the trial judge may well have thought he was faced with another ploy to delay it further. Tortora should have made an offer as to what the witnesses would have testified to enable the trial judge to determine whether there was good cause for a continuance. United States v. Costa,
Tortora also claims that two of the prosecutor's statements in his summation were so prejudicial and inflammatory as to preclude a fair trial. During his summation the Assistant United States Attorney said,
At another point he remarked "[H]ow much strength does it take to pull a trigger?"
The rhetorical question was in response to the defense suggestion that Tortora was too small to frighten Formiglia and extort money from him. As a response to prior argument, the statement was within the limits of fair argument. United States v. Mattio,
Like any constitutional guarantee, the defendant's right to be present at trial may be waived, Snyder v. Massachusetts,
Waiver of a constitutional right must be both "knowing" and "voluntary." A defendant who deliberately fails to appear in court does so voluntarily, and thus the important question is whether his absence can be considered a "knowing" waiver. We hold that it can. The deliberate absence of a defendant who knows that he stands accused in a criminal case and that the trial will begin on a day certain indicates nothing less than an intention to obstruct the orderly processes of justice. No defendant has a unilateral right to set the time or circumstances under which he will be tried. See United States v. Bentvena,
Without this obligation on the accused the disposition of criminal cases would be subject to the whims of defendants who could frustrate the speedy satisfaction of justice by absenting themselves from their trials. Today more than ever the public interest
Before a trial may proceed in the defendant's absence, the judge must find that the defendant has had adequate notice of the charges and proceedings against him. Notice is initially given to a defendant by the issuance of an indictment. But not until the defendant answers the indictment by pleading in open court to the charges therein can a court know with certainty that the defendant has been apprised of the proceedings begun against him. Thus no defendant can be tried until after he personally has entered a plea to the charge. It must clearly appear in the record, however, that the defendant was advised when proceedings were to commence and that he voluntarily, knowingly, and without justification failed to be present at the designated time and place before the trial may proceed in his absence. Cureton v. United States, 130 U.S.App. D.C. 22,
On the facts of this case, there were no constitutional constraints against the trial judge's proceeding with the trial even though Santoro failed to appear on August 16. Santoro had pleaded not guilty to the indictment on January 8, 1971. Released on $20,000 bail, he then appeared before Judge Pollack on April 15, 1971, when the case was called for trial, and also on August 10, 1971, the date the court had set as the most convenient for this multiple-defendant trial. Santoro was present in open court when Judge Pollack continued the case until August 16. Indeed, at 11:30 P.M. on the evening of August 15, Santoro called his attorney to arrange for a ride to court the following morning. Thus it is clear beyond peradventure that Santoro had been adequately apprised that he was to appear in court on August 16 and that his trial would commence on that day. No justification, either to the district
It is obviously desirable that a defendant be present at his own trial. We do not here lay down a general rule that, in every case in which the defendant is voluntarily absent at the empanelment of the jury and the taking of evidence, the trial judge should proceed with the trial. We only hold that this is within the discretion of the trial judge, to be utilized only in circumstances as extraordinary as those before us. Indeed, we would add that this discretion should be exercised only when the public interest clearly outweighs that of the voluntarily absent defendant. Whether the trial will proceed will depend upon the trial judge's determination of a complex of issues. He must weigh the likelihood that the trial could soon take place with the defendant present; the difficulty of rescheduling, particularly in multiple-defendant trials; the burden on the Government in having to undertake two trials, again particularly in multiple-defendant trials where the evidence against the defendants is often overlapping and more than one trial might keep the Government's witnesses in substantial jeopardy.
We hold that the trial judge was well within his discretion in refusing to adjourn the trial on August 16 or to sever Santoro's trial from that of the other defendants. As a result of the difficulty of coordinating the defense attorneys' conflicting schedules and the unsubstantiated claims of physical ailments made by two other defendants, numerous delays had already occurred in this multiple-defendant trial. The Government's case rested almost exclusively on the testimony of one witness who had already been threatened on numerous occasions by the appellants. Extensive delays would almost certainly have accompanied any adjournment and the Government's main witness would have continued to be in potential danger until his testimony was completed. Severance would have added substantially to the burden on the Government and its witnesses, necessitating two trials in the place of one: it would have been an unwarranted delay in the expeditious administration of justice. Moreover, the danger to the Government's witness would have continued until that indefinite time in the future when the witness's testimony in the second trial would have been completed.
Santoro's only other claim of substance is that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to the counsel of his choice. We cannot agree. No defendant has an absolute right to any particular counsel. Indeed the right to counsel can be waived entirely if a defendant does not retain an attorney within a reasonable time as set by the trial court. United States v. DiStefano,
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