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United States v. Coats

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

December 17, 2019



          Susan Collins Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is a Motion for Hearing for Modification of Pretrial Detention Order filed by pro se Defendant on November 12, 2019. (ECF 43). The Government filed its response on November 26, 2019. (ECF 51). On December 11, 2019, the Court received Defendant's reply, dated December 6, 2019. (ECF 62). The matter is thus ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion (ECF 43) is DENIED.

         A. Background

         Defendant was initially charged on May 31, 2019, by way of a criminal complaint, with possession and distribution of controlled substances, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.[1] (ECF 1). On June 4, 2019, the Court held a combined probable cause and detention hearing. (ECF 13). The hearing was electronically recorded and the Court has reviewed the recording in reaching its decision here.

         At the combined hearing, the Government offered the testimony of Fort Wayne Police Officer and FBI Task Force Officer Darrin Stroyer. Officer Stroyer testified as to the investigation detailed in the affidavit filed in support of the Complaint (ECF 1), as well as Defendant's alleged membership in the Mafia street gang in Fort Wayne. Officer Strayer also testified that Defendant had attempted to intimidate a witness during a state criminal case against a fellow gang member. The Government produced screenshots from various music videos publicly available on YouTube showing Defendant appearing to threaten cooperating witnesses in state criminal cases, handling firearms, and referencing his gang membership. Officer Stroyer further testified that Defendant had recently been charged in state court with attempted murder and had coached the State's key witness, the victim, on how to file an affidavit retracting his identification of Defendant as his shooter, resulting in the case's dismissal. Specifically, Officer Stroyer claimed to have viewed electronic messages sent from the Allen County Jail using Defendant's jail pin-number, detailing how to do just that, Defendant's counsel[2] cross-examined Officer Strayer on Defendant's alleged gang membership, possible alternative explanations for Defendant's behavior during the state court case, whether Defendant's speech in the YouTube videos was protected by the First Amendment, and whether Officer Stroyer could conclusively show that Defendant was a gang member or handled actual firearms in the YouTube videos. Defense Counsel further questioned whether someone else could have sent the electronic messages regarding the affidavit using Defendant's credentials.

         During argument as to the issue of pretrial detention, the Government noted that pursuant to 18 USC § 3142(e)(3), there was a rebuttable presumption in favor of detention raised by both the narcotics and firearms charges. In addition to adopting the arguments made in favor of probable cause, the Government also argued Defendant's criminal history, as contained in United States Probation Department Pretrial Services Report (ECF 10), weighed in favor of detention. More specifically, the Government noted Defendant had multiple violations of state court bonds, probation, and court supervision, and that Defendant was on state court supervision when the alleged illegal conduct in this case occurred. Finally, Defendant had resisted arrest when law enforcement attempted to arrest him for the attempted murder, leading officers on a high-speed chase, barricading himself in his grandfather's home, and requiring the intervention of a SWAT team. (ECF 1 at 10). The Government's complaint also alleged that upon Defendant's arrest, a firearm was recovered in his grandfather's home. (Id.). Defendant's counsel in turn argued that Defendant had in fact successfully completed periods of home detention, was willing to abide by conditions such as confinement at a halfway house or electronic monitoring and argued that Defendant had never failed to appear for a court or probation hearing. Counsel also argued that Defendant had been employed at Express Staffing, though provided no verification, and that he had attended and was planning to attend school at Indiana Tech.

         The Court made an oral ruling, and issued a written order (ECF 16), granting the Government's motion for pretrial detention. Specifically, the Court found that there was a rebuttable presumption pursuant to 18 USC § 3142(e)(3) that no condition or combination of conditions would reasonably assure Defendant's appearance or the safety of the community. (Id. at 2). This was because Defendant was charged with an offense under the Controlled Substance Act carrying a maximum sentence of ten or more years imprisonment, and because Defendant was charged with an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). (Id.). Additionally, the Court found that Defendant failed to introduce sufficient evidence to rebut this presumption. (Id. at 3).

         Additionally, though, the Court found the Government had proven, by clear and convincing evidence, that no conditions of release would reasonably assure the safety of the community; and by a preponderance of the evidence, that no condition or combination of conditions of release will reasonably assure Defendant's appearance as required.[3] In support of its finding, the Court cited the weight of the evidence against Defendant; the lengthy period of incarceration Defendant faces if convicted; Defendant's history of alcohol and substance abuse; Defendant's lack of stable employment; and Defendant's prior violation of probation, parole, or supervised release. (Id.). As the Court explained at the hearing, it especially gave weight to the Defendant's state court history, including the three state court cases in the past ten years where Defendant had some form of pre or post-trial release revoked.[4] The Court further found in support of its conclusions that Defendant had attempted to intimidate a witness at a state murder trial, coached the victim of an offense charged against him to repudiate his testimony, that Defendant is a gang member, and that Defendant had fled from law enforcement, requiring a SWAT team to effectuate his arrest. (Id. at 2-3).

         B. Legal Standard

         Defendant states that he is bringing his motion “pursuant to 18 U.S.C. [§] 3142(f)(2).” (ECF 43 at 1). While the text of § 3142 does not provide for multiple detention hearings, subsection (f) notes that:

The [detention] hearing may be reopened, before or after a determination by the judicial officer, at any time before trial if the judicial officer finds that information exists that was not known to the movant at the time of the hearing and that has a material bearing on the issue whether there are conditions of release that will reasonably assure the appearance of such person as required and the safety of any other person and the community.

         Thus, in order to reopen the hearing, a defendant must present evidence that was not previously available and is relevant to the determination of his risk of flight or danger to the community. United States v. Hendon, No. 08-CR-172, 2009 WL 2912906, at *2 (E.D. Wis. Sept. 10, 2009). The Court, though, does not need to hold an additional hearing if the moving party fails to reach this threshold showing. See United States v. Sallay, Cause No. 2:11-CR-015, 2011 WL 1344288, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Apr. 8, 2011); United States v. Bernal, No. 2:10-CR-109, 2010 WL 3039528, at *4 (N.D. Ind. July 30, 2010).

         C. Analysis

         In his motion Defendant first argues that the Court found him to be “simply ‘ineligible'” for release without adequately holding the Government to its burden. (ECF 43 ¶ 1). To the extent Defendant questions the Court's application of the law in its initial finding, a motion pursuant to § 3142(f) is the wrong vehicle to bring his challenge. If Defendant wishes to seek review of the Order by the District Judge, rather than just offering new evidence, he “may file, with the court having original jurisdiction over the offense, a motion for revocation or amendment of the order.” 18 U.S.C. § 3145(b). In any event though, Defendant's former counsel did argue that there were conditions that would assure his appearance, including electronic monitoring and confinement to a halfway house. The Court, however, ...

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