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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 22, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RUKIYA R. SMITH, Defendant

For RUKIYA R. SMITH, USMS 34656068, Defendant: Christopher B. Brown, LEAD ATTORNEY, Federal Public Defender's Office, Pittsburgh, PA.

For USA, Plaintiff: John J. Valkovci , Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, Johnstown Division, Johnstown, PA.

Page 542

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KIM R. GIBSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. Synopsis

Before the Court is Defendant's request, following her plea of guilty, to remain on bond pending sentencing in this matter.

Page 543

The Government opposes this request and asks that Defendant be detained pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3143(a)(2). Defendant does not contest that § 3143(a)(2) is applicable to this case and provides for mandatory detention based upon the offenses to which Defendant pled guilty. However, Defendant contends that exceptional reasons exist pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3145(c) to permit her release pending sentencing. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny Defendant's request to remain on bond and order that Defendant be detained.

II. Background

On October 8, 2013, a two-count Indictment was issued against Defendant, charging her with distribution of less than 28 grams of cocaine base and less than 100 grams of heroin at Count 1 and possession with intent to distribute less than 100 grams of heroin at Count 2. (ECF No. 1). On October 15, 2013, Defendant appeared before Magistrate Judge Pesto for her initial appearance and arraignment, at which time Defendant entered a plea of not guilty. ( See ECF Nos. 9, 10).

The Government initially requested detention ( see ECF No. 3) and Defendant was detained following her arraignment pending a detention hearing ( see ECF No. 12). However, the detention hearing was cancelled, and Magistrate Judge Pesto granted Defendant's motion for release, which the Government did not oppose. (ECF No. 18). Defendant was released from custody after posting a $5,000 unsecured bond and was placed under the supervision of pretrial services, which included home detention and electronic monitoring. (ECF No. 19, 20).

On June 30, 2014, appearing before this Court, Defendant pled guilty to both Counts of the Indictment. ( See ECF Nos. 44, 45). At the conclusion of Defendant's change of plea hearing, the Government asked that Defendant be detained pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3143(a)(2). (ECF No. 47 at 3:7-10). In response, Defendant asked the Court " to find not only exceptional reasons to keep [Defendant] out on bond, but possibly in the alternative defer decision on bond until the date of the sentencing hearing." (ECF No. 47 at 3:22-25). At the request of the Government (ECF No. 47 at 10:15-18), the Court agreed to briefly defer its ruling, pending a subsequent detention hearing, and permitted Defendant to temporarily remain on bond, subject to the previously ordered conditions.

This Court then held a detention hearing on July 10, 2014. After hearing testimony and the arguments of counsel, the Court took the matter under advisement to fully review the relevant statutory authority and case law and to issue a written decision. Defendant was permitted to remain under the conditions of her current bond pending the Court's decision. Sentencing in this case is scheduled for December 11, 2014.

III. Analysis

Defendant requests that this Court allow her to remain on bond pending the disposition of sentencing. Defendant contends that there is clear and convincing evidence that she is neither a danger to the community nor a flight risk and that there are exceptional reasons to support her request to remain on bond rather than be detained. Specifically, Defendant asserts that she has been compliant with all of the requirements of her pretrial bond, she is the single mother of two children, she works two stable jobs to provide income for her family, and she has taken significant steps in changing her life and becoming a productive member of the community. Defendant's request raises an

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important issue related to the applicable statute--an issue on which courts are in disagreement. Namely, whether 18 U.S.C. § 3145(c) grants discretionary authority to a district court to make a finding of exceptional reasons and thereby release a defendant on bond despite the mandatory detention requirement of § 3143(a)(2).

A. Mandatory Detention Under § 3143(a)(2)

" The release or detention of a criminal defendant pending [her] sentence is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 3143(a)." United States v. Lieberman, 496 F.Supp.2d 584, 586 (E.D. Pa. 2007); see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 46(c). On June 30, 2014, Defendant pled guilty to a two-count Indictment, which charged her at Count 1 with distribution of less than 28 grams of cocaine base and less than 100 grams of heroin, and at Count 2 with possession with intent to distribute less than 100 grams of heroin, both in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C).

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3143(a)(1),[1] Defendant may be released pending sentencing--less subsection (a)(2) applies-- if the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Defendant is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community if released. Courts have explained that § 3143(a)(1) " creates a presumption in favor of detention pending sentencing," which a defendant can rebut only if she meets her high burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that she is not a flight risk or a danger to the community. United States v. Georgiou, No. 09-cr-88, 2010 WL 701892, at *1-2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 1, 2010); see also United States v. Strong, 775 F.2d 504, 505 (3d Cir. 1985).

Here, Defendant has met her burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that she is not a flight risk nor a danger to the community. Importantly, Defendant has significant ties to the community; she is a single mother of two teen children, who both live with her in Johnstown; she works two jobs, and her employers both testified that she is a reliable and valued employee; she recently earned her GED; and she has been compliant with all of her pretrial release conditions and was highly commended by her supervising officer. These facts, in addition to other testimony and evidence presented to the Court,[2] are sufficient to show that Defendant is not likely to flee. Likewise, Defendant has presented clear and convincing evidence to

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convince this Court that she does not pose a danger to any person or to the community, despite the fact that the crimes to which Defendant pled guilty involve distribution of a controlled substance and despite Defendant's prior criminal record. Thus, Defendant has met the threshold requirements of § 3143(a)(1).

However, because Defendant pled guilty to an offense described in 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(C),[3] she is subject to the detention provisions set forth in § 3143(a)(2). Section 3143(a)(2)[4] requires detention of a person who has been found guilty of a prohibited offense under the Controlled Substance Act, and which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more, unless two requirements are both met: (1) first, that " there is a substantial likelihood that a motion for acquittal or new trial will be granted" or the Government recommends " that no sentence of imprisonment be imposed," and (2) second, that " the judicial officer finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person is not likely to flee or pose a danger to any other person or the community."

Here, Defendant entered a knowing and voluntary plea of guilty to a two-count Indictment charging her with distribution of a controlled substance--a plea that this Court found was supported by an independent basis in fact. Each of the two Counts to which Defendant pled guilty carries a maximum penalty of twenty years imprisonment. Thus, there is not a substantial likelihood that a motion for acquittal or new trial will be granted. Likewise, the Government has stated that it will not recommend that no sentence of imprisonment be imposed. Accordingly, although Defendant has presented clear and convincing evidence that she is unlikely to flee or pose a danger to the community if released, Defendant has failed to meet the additional conditions of § 3143(a)(2). Thus, § 3143(a)(2) requires that Defendant be detained pending sentencing.

Consequently, the only possibility for release pending sentencing in this matter arises under 18 U.S.C. § 3145(c), which permits release upon a finding of exceptional reasons. Defendant presented a number of reasons that she argues are " exceptional," and which would allow this Court to bypass the mandatory detention requirement of § 3143(a)(2). However, before evaluating Defendant's proffered reasons, the Court must first determine whether it has the discretionary authority to apply § 3145(c).

B. Application of § 3145(c) by a District Court

Despite the mandatory language of § 3143(a)(2) requiring detention pending sentencing, numerous district courts have applied § 3145(c) to consider whether exceptional

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reasons warrant a defendant's release pending sentencing. In relevant part, § 3145(c) provides:

A person subject to detention pursuant to section 3143(a)(2) or (b)(2), and who meets the conditions of release set forth in section 3143(a)(1) or (b)(1), may be ordered released, under appropriate conditions, by the judicial officer, if it is clearly shown that there are ...

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