United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.
This matter is before the court on Defendant's motion (Doc. 53) to withdraw the guilty plea he entered on July 29, 2013. Defendant asserts that he should be permitted to withdraw his plea because his prior counsel did not inform him of his right to file a pretrial motion challenging the indictment on the grounds of selective prosecution. Defendant's argument lacks both factual support and legal merit, and we will deny his motion.
This case stems from a joint investigation by the United States Postal Inspection Service and foreign law enforcement agencies into an international movie production company that distributed child pornography. On May 1, 2011, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on the company's premises and seized DVDs, photos, computers, and business records, including customer shipping labels and order histories. A review of the business records indicated that Jeffrey Schmutzler of Fayetteville, Pennsylvania had placed 33 separate purchase orders through the company's website between 2005 and 2011 for movies, photos, and video downloads of child pornography.
On March 21, 2013, officers executed a search warrant on Mr. Schmutzler's home and seized videos and images constituting child pornography. Subsequent to the search, Mr. Schmutzler was interviewed after an advisement and waiver of his Miranda rights. During the interview, Mr. Schmutzler admitted to receiving through the mail and via the internet the videos and photographs seized. Mr. Schmutzler also admitted that he knew it was unlawful to possess such materials.
A grand jury returned a two-count indictment (Doc. 19) on April 3, 2013 charging Defendant Schmutlzer with receipt and possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(2)(B) and (a)(5)(B). The court appointed counsel for Defendant and scheduled the matter for trial.
On July 22, 2013, the parties filed a written plea agreement (Doc. 38) with the court. A change of plea hearing was conducted on July 29, 2013 (Doc. 55), at which time the court advised Defendant of his rights and the Government outlined the facts supporting the charges. Defendant did not dispute the facts presented, and the court accepted his unconditional guilty plea to count one of the indictment pursuant to the plea agreement.
Prior to sentencing in this matter, Defendant retained private counsel and filed the instant motion and supporting brief (Docs. 53, 54) seeking to withdraw his guilty plea. The Government filed a brief (Doc. 56) in opposition to Defendant's motion, and the matter is ripe for disposition.
Defendant seeks to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that his prior counsel failed to inform him of his right to challenge the indictment on the grounds of selective prosecution. Because this claim lacks factual support and legal merit, Defendant has failed to satisfy the high standard for withdrawing his plea.
Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(d)(2)(B), a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea 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)(2)(B). This burden is "substantial"-a defendant is not entitled to withdraw a guilty plea at his whim after a court has accepted it. United States v. Jones, 336 F.3d 245, 252 (3d Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); see also United States v. Brown, 250 F.3d 811, 815 (3d Cir. 2001) ("A shift in defense tactics, a change of mind, or the fear of punishment are not adequate reasons to impose on the government the expense, difficulty, and risk of trying a defendant who has already acknowledged his guilt by pleading guilty.") (citation omitted).
District courts must consider three factors when evaluating a motion to withdraw a guilty plea: (1) whether the defendant asserts his innocence; (2) the strength of defendant's reasons for withdrawing the plea; and (3) whether the Government would be prejudiced by the withdrawal. Jones, 336 F.3d at 252; Mendoza v. United States, 690 F.3d 157, 160-61 (3d Cir. 2012). If the defendant fails to demonstrate that the first two factors support a withdrawal, the Government need not demonstrate prejudice. Jones, 336 F.3d at 255 (citation omitted).
In this instance, Defendant does not contend that he is innocent of the charge of receiving child pornography, nor does he address the issue of prejudice to the Government. Instead, he focuses on the second prong of the court's analysis. As the "fair and just" reason to support withdrawing his guilty plea, Defendant alleges that his prior counsel did not inform him that he could file a pretrial motion challenging the indictment on the grounds of selective prosecution. In essence, Defendant argues that he was unfairly selected for federal prosecution ...