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United States v. Walker

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

September 22, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES YORK WALKER, JR., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the court is Defendant's Motion for Recusal [ECF No. 57]. For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 13, 2016, the grand jury in the Southern District of West Virginia returned a six-count indictment against the defendant, Charles York Walker, Jr., in this case. Indictment [ECF No. 18]. The indictment charges the defendant with three counts of distributing heroin, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), two counts of distributing fentanyl, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Id.

         Subsequently, the defendant and the government entered into a plea agreement. The defendant agreed to plead guilty to a separate, single-count information (case No. 2:17-cr-10), and the government agreed to move the court to dismiss the six-count indictment in this case. Plea Agreement, No. 2:17-cr-10 [ECF No. 9]. The information charged the defendant with a single count of distributing heroin, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Information, No. 2:17-cr-10 [ECF No. 1]. At the defendant's plea hearing, I accepted the defendant's guilty plea to the single-count information but deferred acceptance of the plea agreement until I had reviewed the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”). Plea Hr'g, No. 2:17-cr-10 [ECF No. 4]. The plea agreement included a stipulation of facts in which the defendant and the government stipulated to certain criminal conduct of the defendant that amounted to drug trafficking. Plea Agreement at Ex. B, No. 2:17-cr-10.

         After reviewing the defendant's PSR, I rejected the defendant's plea agreement, finding that it was not in the public interest. United States v. Walker, No. 2:17-cr-10, 2017 WL 2766452 (S.D. W.Va. June 26, 2017) (“the Memorandum”). After I rejected the plea agreement, the defendant withdrew his guilty plea as to the single-count information. Hr'g, No. 2:17-cr-10 [ECF No. 39]. The government then moved to dismiss the single-count information. Notice Dismissal, No. 2:17-cr-10 [ECF No. 40]. I granted the motion, and case No. 2:17-cr-10 was closed. Order, No. 2:17-cr-10 [ECF No. 41].

         The government now proceeds to trial on four counts of the original indictment against the defendant. The defendant argues that the Memorandum, rejecting his plea agreement in case No. 2:17-cr-10, warrants recusal in this case. Mot. Recusal 7- 9 [ECF No. 57]. The defendant claims the Memorandum demonstrates that the court has an actual and apparent bias against him. See Id. at 9-10.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Congress has specified many circumstances under which a judge must recuse himself from a proceeding. See 28 U.S.C. § 455. Two such circumstances are at issue in this case. First, any judge of the United States “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). Second, any judge of the United States “shall also disqualify himself . . . [w]here he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1).

         DISCUSSION

         In a recusal motion, where the source of the alleged bias or partiality comes from judicial proceedings in the case, the “extrajudicial source limitation” applies to the analysis under both § 455(a) and § 455(b)(1). Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 554 (1994) (“[W]e think that the ‘extrajudicial source' doctrine . . . applies to § 455(a).”); Belue v. Leventhal, 640 F.3d 567, 573 (4th Cir. 2011) (recognizing that the Liteky Court concluded that “both § 455(a) and § 455(b)(1) carry an ‘extrajudicial source' limitation”). The extrajudicial source limitation generally requires that “the bias or prejudice must ‘result in an opinion on the merits [of a case] on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.'” Belue, 640 F.3d at 572-73 (quoting Liteky, 510 U.S. at 545 n.1). It is called a “limitation” rather than a “doctrine” because the Liteky Court determined that an extrajudicial source of the bias is neither necessary nor sufficient for recusal. Liteky, 510 U.S. at 554-55; Belue, 640 F.3d at 573 (“[T]he [Liteky] Court was careful to not make the extrajudicial source limitation an ironclad rule.”). In expounding on the scope of the extrajudicial source limitation, the Liteky Court concluded that:

[J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion . . . [and] opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior proceedings, do not constitute a basis for a bias or partiality motion unless they display a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible.

Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

         The Fourth Circuit has concluded that the Liteky Court set a “high bar” for recusals based on bias not stemming from an extrajudicial source. Belue, 640 F.3d at 573. “[I]f strong views on a matter were disqualifying-then a judge would hardly have the freedom to be a judge.” Id. “[T]o argue that judges must desist from forming strong views about ...


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