United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
pending before the Court is Defendant's Letter Form
Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea (ECF No. 44). The Court held a
hearing on the motion on February 20, 2018 at 3:30 p.m. in
Huntington. At the hearing, the Court heard argument both
from Defendant and from the Government relating to
Defendant's motion. Upon close of argument, the Court
ruled that Defendant's motion was
DENIED. The Court's reasons for denial
were set forth during the hearing and are more fully detailed
was charged in a four-count indictment on August 1, 2017. ECF
No. 18. After retaining the counsel of A. Courtenay Craig,
Defendant signed a plea agreement with the Government on
October 17, 2017 in which he pled guilty to Count One of the
indictment and the United States agreed to dismiss the
remaining counts. On October 24, 2017, the Court held a Rule
11 hearing in which it accepted Defendant's guilty plea
but deferred accepting the plea agreement until after review
of a presentence report.
November 14, 2017, Defendant wrote a letter to the Court in
which he moved to withdraw his guilty plea. ECF No. 44. In
his letter form motion, Defendant noted that he had fired Mr.
Craig and filed a complaint against Mr. Craig with the West
Virginia Bar Association. Id. In the complaint,
included as an exhibit to Defendant's letter form motion,
Defendant accused Mr. Craig of misleading him and
“forcing [Defendant] to enter into a non-favorable plea
agreement that [he] [had] no wish to enter into.” ECF
No. 44-1. Defendant also accused Mr. Craig of failing to
provide Defendant with requested discovery materials, failing
to file appropriate pretrial motions, and misleading
Defendant as to his constitutional rights. Id.
Defendant further asserted that Mr. Craig interfered with
Defendant's right to obtain new counsel. Id.
Defendant finally claimed that Mr. Craig misled Defendant in
advising him that the Government would prove its case against
him using racial stereotyping and falsified evidence.
November 14, 2017, Mr. Craig was removed from the case
pursuant to a sealed Court order. ECF No. 43. Richard Weston
was appointed to represent Defendant on January 9, 2018. ECF
No. 59. On February 5, 2018, Mr. Weston filed a Memorandum in
Support of Defendant's letter form motion. ECF No. 61-1.
Memorandum, Defendant reasserted that Mr. Craig
“pressured him into pleading guilty by refusing to
participate in a jury trial, failing to provide him discovery
he requested to review before pleading guilty and failing to
file proper pretrial motions.” ECF No. 61-1. In support
of these assertions, Defendant filed recordings of two phone
calls Defendant made to an unidentified female during the
pre-plea period. ECF No. 64. In the first call, Defendant
told the female that he had no choice but to go to trial,
that he hadn't done anything, and that the plea offers he
was hearing were inconsistent and unpalatable. Id.
In the second call, Defendant told the woman that Mr. Craig
had advised him against going to trial because he was a black
man from out of town and in a relationship with a white
woman, and that a jury would convict him on the basis of
racism. Id. Defendant noted during the call that he
was contemplating firing Mr. Craig because Mr. Craig was not
working with Defendant, but against him. Id.
Defendant further told the female that Mr. Craig advised
Defendant that if he did not take the plea deal he was going
to be sentenced to life in prison. Id. Pursuant to
the offered phone call evidence, his letter form motion, and
his new attorney's memorandum in support, Defendant asked
the Court to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea.
Government responded to Defendant's Memorandum in Support
on February 15, 2018. ECF No. 67. The Government noted that
Defendant signed a guilty plea, initialing each page, in
which he acknowledged that he understood and agreed to the
terms contained in the agreement and was satisfied with the
representation of his attorney. Id. The agreement
that Defendant signed also included a stipulation of facts
referencing Defendant's constructive possession of, among
other items, 140 grams of heroin, 44 grams of cocaine, and a
rifle with ammunition. Id. As such, the Government
opposed Defendant's motion and asked the Court to deny
Defendant's request to withdraw the guilty plea.
Court held a Motions Hearing on February 20, 2018 at which it
heard argument from both parties as to Defendant's Motion
to Withdraw. After consideration of the oral argument and
written submissions, the Court DENIED
Defendant's motion. The Court's reasons for doing so
were explained during the hearing and are provided in greater
defendant does not have an absolute right to withdraw a
guilty plea, even before sentencing.” United States
v. Moore, 931 F.2d 245, 248 (4th Cir. 1991). “A
defendant may withdraw a plea of guilty . . . after the court
accepts the plea, but before it imposes sentence if the
defendant can show a fair and just reason for requesting the
withdrawal.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2)(B). When seeking
to withdraw a guilty plea, the defendant bears the burden of
showing sufficient “fair and just reason” to
withdraw. Moore, 931 F.2d at 248.
fair and just reason for withdrawing a plea is one that
essentially challenges . . . the fairness of [a] Rule 11
proceeding.” United States v. Lambey, 974 F.2d
1389, 1394 (4th Cir. 1992). If a Rule 11 proceeding is
conducted properly, a defendant is left with a “very
limited basis” upon which to withdraw his plea.
United States v. Bowman, 348 F.3d 408, 414 (4th Cir.
2003). Rule 11 hearings raise a “strong
presumption” that a plea is final and binding.
Lambey, 974 F.2d at 1394.
the gloss of this strong presumption of finality, courts
within the Fourth Circuit are directed to look to the
following factors in determining whether a defendant has
sufficiently shown fair and just reason to withdraw:
(1) whether the defendant has offered credible evidence that
his plea was not knowing or voluntary, (2) whether the
defendant has credibly asserted his legal innocence, (3)
whether there has been a delay between the entering of the
plea and the filing of the motion, (4) whether defendant has
had close assistance of competent counsel, (5) whether
withdrawal will cause prejudice to the government, and (6)
whether it will inconvenience the court and waste judicial
Moore, 931 F.2d at 248. The first, second, and
fourth factors “speak most straightforwardly to the
question whether the movant has a fair and just reason”
while the third, fifth, and sixth factors “establish
how heavily the presumption should weigh in any given
case.” United States v. Sparks, 67 F.3d 1145,
1154 (1995). Whether a defendant has shown fair and just
reason for withdrawal is a determination ultimately left to
the discretion of the district court. Moore, 931
F.2d at 248.
Rule 11 Hearing
case, the Court conducted a Rule 11 hearing on October 24,
2017. ECF No. 36. At the Motion Hearing held on February 20,
2018, Defendant conceded that he did not challenge the
adequacy or propriety of the earlier Rule 11 hearing. He
argued, however, that the Court should nevertheless grant his
motion and allow him to withdraw his guilty plea because, at
the time of the hearing, Defendant did not think he had any
other option but to plead guilty. Accordingly, Defendant
asserted that his testimony at the Rule 11 hearing was
offered only to complete the plea process and was not offered
in the spirit of full disclosure to the Court.
argument did not persuade the Court to give any less weight
to Defendant's Rule 11 testimony. “Statements of
fact by a defendant in Rule 11 proceedings may not ordinarily
be repudiated . . .” Lambey, 974 F.2d at 1395.
For example, in one instance the Fourth Circuit declined to
allow a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea even when that
defendant argued that he perjured himself and blatantly lied
to the court during his Rule 11 hearing. Bowman, 348
F.2d at 415. The Fourth Circuit has explained the rule in
saying that “the criminal justice system must be able
to rely on the . . . dialogue between the court and defendant
[at a Rule 11 hearing].” Lambey, 974 F.2d at
1395. Accordingly, this Court found that it had conducted a
thorough Rule 11 hearing at which Defendant offered sworn
testimony, and that the sworn testimony offered during the
hearing defeated the assertions that Defendant later made in
his motion to withdraw.