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United States v. Stinson

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 21, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CAMARI STINSON

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Camari Stinson's Verified Petition to Withdraw Guilty Pleas [ECF No. 109], filed on April 30, 2018. The Court, having reviewed the parties' written submissions and the transcript of the change of plea hearing, and having conducted an evidentiary hearing on the matter, now denies the Defendant's request to withdraw his pleas of guilty to Counts I, II, and III of the Indictment charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), distributing a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

         BACKGROUND

         On May 27, 2015, the Defendant was charged in a three-count Indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm from December 29, 2014, continuing to February 25, 2015 (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)), distributing a controlled substance on January 29, 2015 (21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of the January 29 drug trafficking crime (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)). A jury trial was scheduled to begin on December 5, 2017. On November 30, 2017, the Defendant filed a Motion to Plea[d] Guilty to Counts II and III [ECF No. 93]. The Defendant stated that he wished to enter pleas of guilty to Counts II and III without the benefit of a plea agreement, which would leave Count I, the felon in possession charge, for trial. On December 1, the Court conducted a telephonic status conference and set the change of plea hearing for December 4.[1]

         On December 4, 2017, the Defendant entered pleas of guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement to all three counts before the undersigned judge. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 29, 2018. A probation officer prepared a Presentence Investigation Report, to which the Defendant filed objections. The objections centered around the recitation of the offense conduct, particularly as it related to relevant conduct for the felon in possession charge, including whether the Defendant used the firearm in an attempted murder that resulted in serious bodily injury. With respect to conduct during the January 29, 2015, drug transaction, the Defendant's only objection was to the factual assertion that he made comments about his involvement in the shooting prior to the CI and to the undercover agent completing the controlled buy.

         The Court scheduled an evidentiary hearing to address the objections, but vacated it after the Defendant expressed a desire to withdraw his guilty plea. In his Verified Petition to Withdraw, the Defendant asserted that his cousin's death plunged him into depression at a time when he was attempting to wean himself from prescribed anti-depressant medication. He further asserted that this caused “an inability in my mind to be properly prepared for trial in this case” and feeling “pressured to plead guilty . . . as my only remaining option.” (Verified Pet. 1.) The Defendant maintains that he “did not commit these offenses, such that all required elements could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Id. at 2.)

         The Court took the Petition under advisement and set the matter for an evidentiary hearing to further develop the record, specifically identifying several issues that remained unclear from the Verified Petition. At the June 15, 2018, hearing the Government presented the testimony of Agent Wayne Lessner from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to address the Defendant's claim that he is innocent of the charges to which he pled guilty. The Defendant did not present testimony. At the conclusion of the hearing, neither party requested the opportunity to submit additional briefing, but opted to rely on the presentations made to the Court.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 governs a defendant's request to withdraw a plea of guilty. It allows a defendant to withdraw a plea of guilty after the court accepts the plea and before sentence is imposed if “the defendant can show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2)(B). The Seventh Circuit has “frequently observed that a defendant does not have an absolute right to withdraw a plea before sentencing, although the court may allow him to do so if he has a fair and just reason for doing so.” United States v. Chavers, 515 F.3d 722, 724 (7th Cir. 2008) (quotation marks, citations, and brackets omitted); United States v. Hodges, 259 F.3d 655, 661 (7th Cir. 2001). “Because the defendant's statements at a plea colloquy are presumed to be true, the defendant bears a heavy burden of persuasion in showing that such a fair and just reason exists.” Chavers, 515 F.3d at 724 (citing United States v. Logan, 244 F.3d 553, 558 (7th Cir. 2001)). Requiring that the defendant have a “fair and just” reason to withdraw an accepted plea is consistent with the requirement that, before any plea is accepted, the defendant has sworn in open court that he actually committed the crimes, he has stated that he is pleading guilty because he is in fact guilty, he has stated that he is pleading guilty voluntarily, the court has advised him of his trial rights, the court has advised him of any maximum possible penalty, the court has explained the terms of any plea agreement provision waiving the right to appeal, and the court has found a factual basis for the plea. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b) (setting forth requirements for considering and accepting a guilty plea).

Given the great care with which pleas are taken under . . . Rule 11, there is no reason to view pleas so taken as merely tentative, subject to withdrawal before sentence whenever the government cannot establish prejudice. Were withdrawal automatic in every case where the defendant decided to alter his tactics and present his theory of the case to the jury, the guilty plea would become a mere gesture, a temporary and meaningless formality reversible at the defendant's whim. In fact, however, a guilty plea is no such trifle, but a grave and solemn act, which is accepted only with care and discernment.

United States v. Hyde, 520 U.S. 670, 676-77 (1997) (quotation marks and brackets omitted) (citing Advisory Committee explanation for adding “fair and just” language to Rule 32(e) (now Rule 11(d)).

         It is within the court's discretion whether to hold a hearing on the plea's validity. United States v. Collins, 796 F.3d 829, 834 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing United States v. Jones, 381 F.3d 615, 618 (7th Cir. 2004)).

         ANALYSIS

         In his Verified Petition to Withdraw Guilty Plea, the Defendant does not point to any deficiency in the Court's colloquy during the change of plea hearing on December 4, 2017. That is, he does not allege that the Court failed to follow Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal. Rather, his claim is that personal circumstances led him to plead guilty as his “only remaining option” despite the fact that he had intended to defend the charges at trial because he is innocent. (Verified Pet. ¶¶ 4, 7, 8.) He points specifically to his attempts to “ween [sic] [himself] off of a prescribed anti-depressant medication (Celexa)” in advance of his trial date. (Id. ¶ 5.) The Defendant states that, in the meantime, the shooting death of his cousin in Fort Wayne “plunged [him] into a significant depression” and caused him to “become suicidal.” (Id. ¶ 6.) According to the Defendant's Petition, with ...


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