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United States v. Mitchell

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 27, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RONALD MITCHELL

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

VIRGINIA M. KENDALL, District Judge.

Defendant Ronald Mitchell moves to withdraw his plea of guilty. Mitchell pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) (1) and possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Mitchell claims that he felt pressured to plead guilty, that he did not have sufficient time to review his plea agreement, and that he did not have sufficient time to discuss the case with his attorney. The Government opposes Mitchell's motion. Mitchell did not file a reply to the Government's opposition. For the reasons stated herein, this Court denies Mitchell's motion.

FACTS

On March 7, 2012, a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Mitchell charging him with knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of mixtures of a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin and with being a felon who knowingly possessed an Armscor model 1911A1-CS PS.45 caliber pistol. (Dkt. No. 2.) Mitchell appeared before this Court on April 4, 2012, and entered a plea of not guilty as to all counts. (Dkt. No. 6.) Steven Greenberg entered an appearance on Mitchell's behalf on April 9, 2012. (Dkt. No. 11.)

On October 23, 2012, Mitchell filed a motion to remain on bail or alternatively to continue the trial date and set a change of plea. (Dkt. No. 21.) In that motion, Mitchell indicated that he intended to plead guilty and sought to remain on bond until sentencing. ( Id. ) Mitchell withdrew his plea of not guilty and entered a plea of guilty on February 7, 2013.

Before accepting Mitchell's plea of guilty, this Court held a change of plea hearing during which this Court determined that Mitchell's plea was voluntary and did not result from force, threats, or promises not contained in the plea agreement. ( See Dkt. No. 48, Hr'g Tr. 12:14-15 (Feb. 7, 2013).) After placing Mitchell under oath, this Court determined that he was competent to enter a plea of guilty based on his answers to a series of questions asked by this Court. ( Id. at 5:25-6:3.) Specifically, this Court asked Mitchell about his educational background ( id. at 3:10-13), whether he had ever been treated for a mental health condition ( id. at 4:6-8), whether he had ever been treated for substance abuse ( id. at 4:9-21), and whether he had any alcohol or drugs in the twenty-four hours prior to his change of plea hearing ( id. at 4:22-5:2). Neither Mitchell's lawyer nor the Government identified any reason to question Mitchell's competency. ( Id. at 5:7-11.)

After finding Mitchell competent to plead guilty, this Court advised Mitchell on the maximum sentence he faced, his rights, his waiver of his rights, and the effects of his waiver of his rights. Specifically, this Court explained that Mitchell faced a total potential sentence of fifty years in prison, a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, and an advisory sentencing guideline range of 168 months to 210 months in prison. ( Id. at 6:6-19, 8:4-7.) This Court also explained that Mitchell had a right to a speedy trial by a jury, that the government would have to prove Mitchell's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that his lawyer could cross-examine any witnesses presented by the Government. ( Id. at 9:14-10:8.) This Court further explained that Mitchell could testify at trial if he chose to do so, and that no one could infer guilt should he choose not to testify at trial. ( Id. at 10:9-12.) After explaining his rights, this Court explained that Mitchell would waive those rights, as well as his appellate rights except for involuntariness or effective assistance of counsel, by entering a plea of guilty. ( Id. at 10:21-12:9.) When asked, Mitchell stated that no one forced him to enter his plea of guilty. ( Id. at 12:14-15.)

Mitchell also confirmed that he reviewed his plea agreement with his lawyer. ( Id. at 3:14-21.) Mitchell further confirmed that he asked his lawyer questions about his plea agreement and that his lawyer answered his questions. ( Id. at 3:22-25.) The plea agreement itself contains many of the admonishments this Court gave Mitchell during his plea hearing.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A defendant may withdraw a plea of guilty after a court accepts the plea but before the court imposes a sentence if a defendant can show a fair and just reason for withdrawal. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2)(B); United States v. Mays, 593 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2010). A defendant's right to withdraw a plea prior to sentencing is not absolute. Id. at 606-07. One instance in which a defendant may withdraw a plea of guilty is where the defendant did not enter the plea voluntarily and knowingly. Id.

To ensure that a defendant enters his plea voluntarily and knowingly, a court must address the defendant personally in open court. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(1); United States v. Blalock, 321 F.3d 686, 688 (7th Cir. 2003). During this exchange, known as a Rule 11 or plea colloquy, a court informs a defendant who intends to enter a plea of guilty of various rights outlined in Rule 11 to ensure that the defendant understands his rights. Id. But Rule 11 does not require rigid adherence. Id. Rather, the validity of a plea colloquy depends on whether the defendant understood the charge against him and whether the court informed the defendant of his rights. Id. at 688-89; see also United States v. Messino, 55 F.3d 1241, 1254 (7th Cir. 1995). Factors such as the complexity of the charge, the defendant's level of intelligence, age, education, and whether counsel represented the defendant influence the determination as to the validity of a Rule 11 colloquy. Blalock, 55 F.3d at 689.

Substantial compliance with Rule 11 is all that is necessary to ensure that a defendant enters his plea voluntarily and knowingly. See United States v. Davila, 133 S.Ct. 2139, 2146-47 (2013); United States v. Akinsola, 105 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1997). Any variance from the requirements of Rule 11 is harmless error if it does not affect substantial rights. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(h). Whether an error is harmless in the context of Rule 11 depends on "whether the defendant's knowledge and comprehension of the full and correct information would have been likely to affect his willingness to plead guilty." United States v. Loutos, 383 F.3d 615, 618 (7th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

The record shows that Mitchell entered his plea voluntarily and knowingly. This Court determined as much after having conducted an extensive colloquy with Mitchell to ensure that he understood the charges against him, his rights, and the effects of his guilty plea on his rights. During its colloquy with Mitchell, this Court observed Mitchell's demeanor as he responded to this Court's inquiries. See United States v. Seavoy, 995 F.2d 1414, 1421 (7th Cir. 1993) ("The only rational manner in which a judge may determine whether a plea is knowingly and voluntarily made, is to observe the defendant's demeanor and responses to the court's questions and to rely on the ...


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