United States v. Lane
Annotate this Case
474 U.S. 438 (1986)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Lane, 474 U.S. 438 (1986)
United States v. Lane
Argued October 9, 1985
Decided January 27, 1986*
474 U.S. 438
James Lane and his son Dennis, respondents in No. 84-744, were indicted on counts for, inter alia, mail fraud in connection with insurance claims that were made and that insurers paid for fire damage to a restaurant and duplex that James had hired a professional arsonist to burn. The restaurant was operated by James in partnership with others. Count 1 charged James with mail fraud with regard to that fire. The duplex was owned by a different partnership, of which Dennis was one of the partners. Counts 2 through 4 charged both respondents with mail fraud related to the duplex fire. Count 5 charged both respondents with conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a third arson scheme, and Count 6 charged Dennis with perjury before the grand jury. The Federal District Court denied respondents' pretrial motions for severance on the alleged ground that the charged offenses were misjoined in violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 8(b), which provides that two or more defendants may be charged in the same indictment if they are alleged to have participated "in the same act or transaction or in the same series of acts or transactions constituting an offense or offenses." The trial then proceeded jointly before a jury. When evidence relating to the restaurant fire was admitted, the court instructed the jury not to consider that evidence against Dennis, and repeated this instruction in the final charge and admonished the jury to consider each count and defendant separately. The jury returned convictions on all counts. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for new trials, holding that the joinder of Count 1 with the other five counts violated Rule 8(b) and that such misjoinder was prejudicial per se. The court, however, rejected respondents' contention that there was insufficient evidence to support convictions under Counts 2 through 4 because each charged mailing occurred after each related insurance payment had been received and thus after each scheme to defraud had reached fruition.
1. Misjoinder under Rule 8(b) is subject to harmless error analysis, and is not reversible error per se. An error involving misjoinder "affects
substantial rights" and requires retrial only if the misjoinder results in actual prejudice because it "had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict." Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U. S. 750, 328 U. S. 776. It is only by such a holding that Rule 8(b) and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(a) -- which provides that any error "which does not affect substantial rights shall be disregarded" -- can be brought into substantial harmony. Here, in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt, the claimed error was harmless. The District Court provided proper limiting jury instructions, and, moreover, the same evidence on Count 1 would likely have been admissible on joint retrial of the other counts to show James' intent under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Any error therefore failed to have any "substantial influence" on the verdict. Pp. 474 U. S. 444-450.
2. There was sufficient evidence to support the convictions on Counts 2 through 4. On the evidence and under proper instructions, the jury could properly find that the mailings charged in Counts 2 and 3 took place while the overall scheme charged in the indictment was still continuing and that the scheme was not completed until after the mailing charged in Count 4, because that mailing, as were the others, was intended to "lull" the insurer into a false sense of security. Pp. 474 U. S. 451-453.
735 F.2d 799, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Part III of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 453. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 465.