United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
Publicity Surrounding the Case
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
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
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 ...