United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
CURTIS L. COLLIER, District Judge.
Before the Court is Defendant Faith Blake's ("Blake") motion to withdraw her guilty plea. On December 19, 2013 Blake appeared before Magistrate Judge William B. Mitchell Carter and pleaded guilty to the offenses specified in her indictment. This Court adopted Magistrate Judge Carter's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") approving Blake's plea on January 7, 2014 (Court File No. 80). On February 26, 2014 Blake's Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") was prepared and distributed to the parties (Court File No. 195). Soon after, Blake requested and was granted new counsel. On August 1, 2014 Defendant Blake filed a motion to withdraw her guilty plea, claiming that her earlier plea was not voluntary but was instead the result of coercion by her prior counsel (Court File No. 276). The Government filed a response in opposition (Court File No. 314).
Considering the applicable law, the Court finds that Blake has failed to meet the requirements for granting such a motion. Accordingly, the Court will DENY Blake's motion and reschedule her sentencing hearing.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Withdrawal of a guilty plea is governed by Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d). "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). In analyzing whether a defendant has made the requisite showing, a court considers the list of seven non-exhaustive factors set forth in United States v. Bashara : (1) the amount of time that elapsed between the plea and the motion to withdraw, (2) the existence or absence of a valid reason for the failure to move for withdrawal earlier, (3) whether the defendant has asserted or maintained her innocence, (4) the circumstances underlying the entry of the guilty plea, (5) the defendant's background, (6) the defendant's prior experience in the criminal justice system, and (7) potential prejudice to the United States if the defendant's motion were granted. United States v. Bashara, 27 F.3d 1174, 1181 (6th Cir. 1994).
II. RELEVANT FACTS
On August 28, 2012, a federal grand jury sitting returned a sixty-six-count indictment charging Blake and three codefendants with participating in a prescription drug trafficking conspiracy based out of a pain clinic. Blake was released pending trial. In May 2013, law enforcement received information that she may have violated conditions of her release. Blake failed to appear for her revocation hearing on May 14, 2013. Law enforcement went to her house to investigate and found that Blake had abandoned the house. Five months later, she was apprehended in Maryland living under an assumed name. On June 25, 2013, the Government filed a superseding indictment adding additional IRS charges and failure-to-appear charges as to Blake.
On December 19, 2013, Blake pleaded guilty to four counts of the ninety-one-count superseding indictment. Count One charged Conspiracy to Distribute and Dispense Controlled Substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(b)(1)(C), 841(a)(1); Count Six charged Conspiracy to Distribute and Dispense Controlled Substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(b)(1)(C), 841(a)(1); Count Ninety charged Failure to Appear, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 3146(a)(1), 3146(b)(1)(A)(I); Count Ninety-One charged Obstruct or Impede the Internal Revenue Laws, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a). As part of her plea agreement, Blake agreed with the factual basis provided by the government, admitting to running pain clinics that distributed controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the scope of professional practice (Court File No. 301-1).
On November 20, 2013, Blake signed the plea agreement in the presence of her attorney. After signing the agreement she cooperated with government agents for a period of time. Blake was also interviewed by Probation Officers in connection with preparation of the PSR. At no time did Blake indicate to the Probation Officer that she was not guilty of the offenses to which she pleaded guilty. She received her PSR on February 26, 2014 and, a little over a week later, filed a motion requesting new counsel. On March 20, 2014, Blake appeared before Magistrate Judge Carter and was appointed new counsel. At that hearing, Blake did not indicate any intention to withdraw her plea despite being given the opportunity to address the court. On August 1, 2014, Blake filed the instant motion to withdraw her guilty plea (Court File No. 276).
At a hearing on the motion, the Government called Eugene Shiles, Blake's prior counsel. Mr. Shiles testified that he had not, in any way, coerced Blake into entering her plea nor had Blake ever expressed to him a desire to withdraw her guilty plea. His testimony was very logical, cogent and credible. The Government also introduced into evidence correspondence between Blake and her former counsel further supporting and corroborating Shiles's testimony.
As a preliminary matter, much of the following analysis is influenced by the Court's assessment of Blake's credibility in her testimony that she was coerced by her trial counsel in her initial plea. For two reasons, the Court does not find Blake's recent testimony credible. First, Blake has a motive to be untruthful. She has a stake in the outcome in this motion and that outcome is largely dependent on her ability to provide a valid reason for her delay in filing the instant motion. Second, her testimony was completely contradictory to other statements she has given to the court. When she appeared before Magistrate Judge Carter on December 19, 2013, she testified under oath (Court File No. 227, pp. 5-6). She agreed with Judge Carter that she and her lawyer had discussed the case, gone over all of the relevant documents, and she was satisfied with her lawyer's performance ( Id. at 7). She stated that she was not on any sort of medication that might prevent her from understanding the proceeding ( Id. at 6-7). She denied that she had been forced or threatened into making the guilty plea ( Id. at 11). Finally, she acknowledged her guilt multiple times both as to the elements of the offenses with which she was charged and again by acknowledging her agreement to the factual basis ( Id. at 14-20, 25-26). At no time during this hearing did she assert her innocence ( Id. ). In her interview with the Probation Office she never asserted her innocence. These statements stand in stark contrast to her Affidavit in support of her motion to withdraw her plea (Court File No. 276-1). There she states that she was not provided with a chance to review important documents and discovery in the case and that she was in extreme pain at the time of the hearing ( Id. ¶¶ 5-7, 10). Her chief complaint is that she was threatened and coerced into entering her plea by her initial counsel ( Id. ¶¶ 3-4, 12-13). She also asserts now that she is in fact innocent of the charges against her ( Id. ¶¶ 4, 13). In light of Blake's motive as well as her inconsistent statements, which go to the very heart of her claims, this Court does not find her credible.
With this credibility determination in mind, the Court now turns to the seven Bashara factors it should consider in resolving ...