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United States v. Walker

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

September 25, 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 Change of Venue [ECF No. 58]. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is RESERVED at this time.

         BACKGROUND

         1. Procedural History

         On September 13, 2016, the grand jury in the Southern District of West Virginia returned a six-count indictment against the defendant in this case. Indictment [ECF No. 18]. The indictment charged 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. § 84l(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-cr10 [ECF No. 9]. The information charged the defendant with the 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-cr10.

         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 of 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 against the defendant on four counts of the original indictment in the Southern District of West Virginia. The defendant argues that the publicity surrounding the Memorandum rejecting his plea agreement prevents him from obtaining a fair trial in this District and that a change in venue is therefore warranted.

         2. Publicity Surrounding the Case

         After I rejected the defendant's plea agreement, several news outlets, both local and national, publicized my opinion. See Def.'s Mot. Recusal 3-5 fns. 1-11 [ECF No. 57] (noting that my opinion has been reported in local sources such the Charleston Gazette-Mail and national sources such as the Washington Post). The vast majority of this publicity occurred within ten days of the decision. See id.

         A review of the publicity submitted by the defendant demonstrates that the defendant is not the primary focus of the publicity. While the publications do contain certain information regarding the defendant such as his name, the allegations against him, and some of the defendant's background information as articulated in the Memorandum, the articles primarily focus on my decision as a judge to reject the defendant's plea agreement and the broader public policy issues surrounding the opioid crisis and plea bargaining system.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The United States Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant a right to trial by an impartial jury. See U.S. Const, amend. VL Skilling v. United States,561 U.S. 358, 377 (2010) ("The Sixth Amendment secures to criminal defendants the right to a trial by an impartial jury."). The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 2 l(a) allows a defendant to move for a change of venue when he can demonstrate that "so great a prejudice against the defendant exists in the ...


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