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United States v. Reggie

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 22, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RAYMOND CHRISTOPHER REGGIE

RULING

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea Pursuant to Rule 11(d)(2)(B) [1] by the Defendant, Raymond Christopher Reggie ("Defendant"). The Government has filed an Opposition [2] to this motion. A hearing was held on this motion on June 17, 2015, and the Court heard testimony and received evidence on Defendant's motion. Because the Defendant has failed to provide a fair and just reason for permitting withdrawal of the plea, the motion shall be denied. The Court hereby adopts all of the reasons stated from the bench and sets forth additional reasons below.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Defendant was originally indicted on August 14, 2013.[3] A Superseding Indictment was returned on February 20, 2014 charging the Defendant with five counts of wire fraud.[4] This matter was originally set for trial on January 21, 2014, and later reset for April 14, 2014, and then ultimately October 20, 2014. The Defendant suffered a stroke on October 6, 2014, and requested a continuance. The Court granted an "ends of justice" continuance and set a telephone status conference for October 20, 2014 to obtain an update on the Defendant's medical condition.[5] During the October 20, 2014 status conference, the Court was advised by Defendant's counsel that he had been released that very morning from a rehab facility; thus, the Court set the trial for October 27, 2014.[6] The Defendant again moved for a continuance, which the Court denied based on the existing record.[7] However, this Ruling noted that the Court's specific request for medical documentation regarding "his progress, speech and communication skills, cognitive function and medical ability to be present for trial" was never provided.[8] Rather than going to trial on October 27, 2014, the Defendant chose to enter guilty pleas to the five counts with which he was charged.[9]

Sentencing in this matter was originally set for June 4, 2015. On May 20, 2015, counsel for the Defendant moved to withdraw and substitute new counsel.[10] Before being properly enrolled, new counsel moved to continue the sentencing.[11] The Court granted this continuance and set the sentencing for June 17, 2015.[12] On June 2, 2015, newly enrolled counsel for the Defendant filed the motion now before the Court to withdraw the guilty pleas entered on October 27, 2014.

II. DEFENDANT'S MEDICAL CONDITION

The Defendant claims that the Court did not grant him a sufficient continuance of the October 20, 2014 trial date to allow him to recover from the stroke he suffered on October 6, 2014. The Defendant also claims that the Court's denial of his second trial continuance request "forced Reggie to proceed to trial" and left him "little choice but to plead guilty."[13]

Many of these arguments were already considered and rejected by the Court in its previous Ruling [14] for the very simple reason that the Defendant never provided the Court with any medical evidence that he was unable to be present for and participate in his trial. No amount of hyperbole, added emphasis, underlined, emboldened, or italicized arguments transform the facts in Defendant's favor. Moreover, the Court's acknowledgement of Defendant's slow speech and common courtesy to offer for him to sit during the plea is not evidence of the Defendant's lack of cognitive function and medical ability to be present for trial or his lack of ability to understand the arraignment proceedings.[15]

The Court need not reiterate the findings in its previous Ruling. The Court considered the appropriate factors and followed the law set forth in that Ruling as applicable to the facts of the case and the Defendant's medical circumstances. As set forth therein, "[f]or a denial of a continuance to constitute an abuse of discretion, the medical repercussions must be serious and out of the ordinary; the impending trial must pose a substantial danger to defendant's life or health." The Defendant has yet to provide the Court any medical evidence that satisfies this standard.

The Defendant now offers medical evidence to suggest that he was diagnosed with a "brain lesion" two days after his guilty plea which impaired his speech abilities. However, Defendant's Exhibit E is not a "smoking gun" of new information or a new diagnosis. Exhibit E merely evidences a follow-up visit regarding the stroke suffered on October 6, 2014. While page two of this document, which appears to be a record from an office visit on October 29, 2014, does indicate that the primary reason for the visit is "Unable to speak due to brain lesion - Primary, " there is no reason to believe that this treatment was any new injury and/or diagnosis but rather continued treatment for what is clearly shown on page one of Exhibit E as the notation "Unable to speak due to brain lesion" dated October 7, 2014. It appears quite obvious that the "brain lesion" is in fact the objective evidence of the stroke suffered by the Defendant on October 6, 2014. It is not any new development. This exhibit is not evidence of new information not previously known by the Court and does not indicate a more drastic condition than on any other date. Moreover, this document is unresponsive to the specific requests by the Court as to the Defendant's condition.

The term "unable to speak" is also not medically defined or explained. The record makes clear that the Defendant was not rendered mute by his stroke. While the record reflects that Defendant's speech was slow and slightly impaired at the arraignment, at no time did the Court ask Defendant to repeat his answers or fail to understand his answers. Likewise, the court reporter apparently had no trouble accurately recording Defendant's sworn statements. Thus, any impairment to Defendant's speech was not so severe that it prevented effective communication between the Defendant and his attorneys or the Defendant and the Court. There can certainly be no argument that the Defendant was literally "unable to speak" during the arraignment on October 27, 2014. Moreover, the question remains: if any treating physician believed and/or diagnosed the Defendant with a condition so severe that his cognitive function was so impaired and his health so threatened by proceeding to trial, why did no physician ever communicate by letter, submit an affidavit, or testify to such facts in the three weeks between Defendant's stroke and his trial date/arraignment? The Court specifically advised Defendant's counsel on at least three occasions that such a communication would justify a continuance of the trial date in this matter.

It is also important to note that Defendant's current counsel enrolled in this matter on May 26, 2015. Current counsel was not present before, during, or soon after the Defendant's stroke and subsequent guilty pleas. Prior to May 26, 2015, the Defendant was represented by two very capable attorneys who the Defendant himself expressed satisfaction with at his arraignment proceeding.[16] The Court specifically asked Defendant's lead counsel David Courcelle ("Courcelle") if he had the opportunity to discuss with the Defendant the arraignment proceedings and ramifications of entering guilty pleas to the counts charged. Courcelle responded "yes" when asked if the Defendant "is understanding and able to cognitively understand these proceedings today?"[17] Courcelle continued: "We have spent a lot of time going through it much slower, but, yes."[18] Courcelle counseled the Defendant regarding numerous matters relating to this case including his decision to plead guilty, discussed this matter with the Defendant on their drive from New Orleans to Baton Rouge on the day of the arraignment, and stood with the Defendant in open court and confirmed as an officer of the Court and a zealous advocate that the Defendant had the mental and physical capacity to enter the guilty pleas. The Court is unpersuaded by current defense counsel's claims as to the Defendant's speech abilities and mental capacity on the date of the arraignment since current counsel was not present in the courtroom on that date.

The Court also asked the Defendant several questions to ensure that the Defendant had capacity to enter the plea. If at any time the Court believed that the Defendant lacked capacity or was not knowingly and voluntarily entering his pleas, the Court would have stopped the proceedings. The Court asked the Defendant why he was in court; he responded: "to plead guilty."[19] The Defendant continued to provide correct responses to the Court's questions regarding the day of the week, the date, the year, Defendant's age, date of birth, and his current address.[20] All of these answers were provided clearly and without hesitation. The Court even asked the Defendant if he could read the newspaper and understand current events. The Defendant responded in the affirmative and indicated that he knew that the New Orleans Saints had played Green Bay over the previous weekend.[21] The Defendant recounted that he finished college at Tulane in 1984 with a degree in Communications and has been employed most of his adult life in the field of Advertising.[22]

The Defendant acknowledged under oath that no physician had cautioned him against making any important life decisions; the Defendant also indicated he was able to understand his checkbook and pay his bills.[23] The Defendant stated in his own words that he was charged with "five counts of stealing nine checks."[24] When asked by the Court what wire fraud means, the Defendant responded: "I put the check in the bank and it went out of Louisiana and then made it fraud."[25] When the Government presented the Factual Basis for the pleas, the Defendant advised the Court that there were certain factual statements in the Government's proffer with which he disagreed.[26] The Defendant advised the Court that he never worked for Super Chevy, and Courcelle explained to the Court the factual disagreements with the Government's Factual Basis and presented the Defendant's own Factual Basis.[27] At one point during this part of the colloquy, the Court permitted Courcelle and the Defendant to confer off the record to ensure that the Defendant understood the impact of the Factual Basis.[28] Finally, when asked by the Court what the Defendant did that "got us here ...


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