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United States v. James

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 19, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
THOMAS JAMES

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Thomas James' Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea (Doc. 277). The United States filed an opposition. (Doc. 280). For the following reasons, the Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea (Doc. 277) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Government indicted the Defendant and two others for allegedly attempting to cash $2 million in counterfeit checks at Walmart's across the country. (Doc. 13 at p. 3). The Government discovered this scheme when the police stopped a rental car that the Defendant, Walter Glenn, and Larry Walker were driving in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in September of 2014. (Doc. 130 at p. 2). Extensive litigation about whether the police unconstitutionally obtained evidence against the trio during the traffic stop ensued. (See Docs. 130, 162, 185). Ultimately, after two suppression hearings, (Docs. 117 and 184), two extensive rulings by the Court, (Docs. 130, 185), and an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, (Doc. 162), the Court suppressed all evidence against Larry Walker, the evidence obtained from one of the Defendant's bags, and none of the evidence against Walter Glenn. (Docs. 130, 162, 185 at p. 15). The United States then dismissed its case against Larry Walker. (Doc. 160).

         Then, on December 11, 2017, one day before the Defendant and Walter Glenn's trial was set to begin, Thomas James pleaded guilty to all counts. (Doc. 227). At the plea hearing, the Defendant confirmed under oath that no one promised him anything to cause him to plead guilty and that no one told him the actual sentence the Court would impose. (Doc. 281 at 30:5-19). He also testified that he was satisfied with his attorney and that he had enough time to meet with her to discuss the facts of his case. Id. at 30:20-31:2). After a four-day trial, a jury found Walter Glenn guilty on all counts. (Doc. 232).

         Over four months later, on April 19, 2018, Defendant's attorney, Marci Blaize, notified the Court that she met with the Defendant, and he advised her that he intended to seek permission from the Court to "take back his plea agreement" and proceed to trial. (Doc. 263-1). The Defendant also expressed a desire to obtain new counsel because he alleged that she had misinformed and misled him in some way. Id. Given the potential conflict of interest, the Court ordered the Office of the Federal Public Defender to appoint the Defendant conflict counsel for the limited purpose of meeting with the Defendant and determining whether to file a motion to withdraw his plea agreement. (Doc. 264). On May 14, 2018, the Office of the Public Defender appointed Harry Daniels III as conflict counsel. (Doc. 271). Conflict Counsel then filed a Motion to Withdraw Defendant's Guilty Plea, (Doc. 277), and a letter from the Defendant detailing his reasons for wanting to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. 275-3).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A district court may permit a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea after acceptance of the plea but 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). Courts consider seven factors in determining whether to permit a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea:

(1) whether or not the defendant has asserted his innocence; (2) whether or not the government would suffer prejudice if the withdrawal motion were granted; (3) whether or not the defendant has delayed in filing his withdrawal motion; (4) whether or not the withdrawal would substantially inconvenience the court; (5) whether or not close assistance of counsel was available; (6) whether or not the original plea was knowing and voluntary; and (7) whether or not the withdrawal would waste judicial resources.

United States v. Carr, 740 F.2d 339, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1984); see also United States v. Wiggins, 674 Fed.Appx. 396, 401 (5th Cir. 2017).

         "Although this illustrative list should be considered, the ultimate decision should be based on the 'totality of the circumstances.'" United States v. McElhaney, 469 F.3d 382, 385 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting Carr, 740 F.2d at 344). Defendants are also not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, but a hearing is required "when the defendant alleges sufficient facts which, if proven, would justify relief." United States v. Mergist, 738 F.2d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 1984) (internal quotations omitted). Considering the totality of the circumstances and the Carr factors, the Court concludes that the Defendant has not made a sufficient showing to withdraw his guilty plea, or to even be entitled to an evidentiary hearing.

         A. Assertion of Innocence

         The first factor, whether the Defendant asserted his innocence, weighs against the Defendant. Although the Defendant asserts that he is innocent, he does so in a conclusory fashion without any supporting evidence. (See Doc. 277-1 at p. 5). And "a defendant's assertion of actual innocence alone, without supporting evidence, is insufficient to warrant allowing withdrawal[.]" See United States v. Harrison, 111 F.3d 227, 235 (5th Cir. 2015).

         B. Prejudice ...


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