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United States v. Tropea

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

March 6, 2014



ROBERT G. DOUMAR, Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Gregory Lawrence Tropea's ("Defendant") Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea ("Motion to Withdraw"). ECF No. 50. For the reasons set forth herein, the Defendant's Motion to Withdraw is DENIED.


The Defendant was charged on September 9, 2013, in a 26-count Superseding Criminal Indictment, ECF No. 20, of twelve counts of Receipt of Child Pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2) and fourteen counts of Making Materially False Statements to an Agent of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. The Defendant moved to suppress evidence seized from his hotel room. ECF No. 16. After a hearing on the matter on October 16, 2013, the Court denied the motion to suppress. ECF No. 28.

On November 7, 2013, the Defendant pled guilty before Judge Doug Miller to three counts of receipt of child pornography and one count of making false statements to his PO. Plea Agmt., ECF No. 33. During his guilty plea colloquy before Judge Miller, the Defendant affirmed under oath that he had gone over each page of the plea agreement with his attorney, that he had initialed each page of it, and that he understood he would not be able to appeal his sentence in the case. Further, Judge Miller asked both attorneys whether the Defendant's guilty plea was conditioned on his being allowed to appeal the outcome of his motion to suppress; both attorneys affirmed that there was no such condition on the plea-and this exchange occurred in the middle of Judge Miller's colloquy with the Defendant.

Prior to sentencing, the Defendant sent a letter to the Court dated January 21, 2014, ECF No. 48, that alerted the Court to the fact that, contrary to the sentencing procedures order entered by Judge Miller on November 7, 2013, ECF No. 36, his attorney, Greg Matthews, was not present when the Probation Officer interviewed the Defendant in preparation for the Presentence Report. A hearing was held on the matter on February 3, 2014, during which Mr. Matthews was relieved as Defendant's counsel and Jim Ellenson was appointed to represent him.

The instant Motion to Withdraw was filed on February 12, 2014. ECF No. 50. Only a paragraph long, it states that the Defendant mistakenly believed that his plea would permit him to appeal the denial of his suppression motion; since "[o]bviously, that is not the case, " he requested to either withdraw his guilty plea or else enter a new, conditional guilty plea that would permit such an appeal. Id . On February 24, 2014, the Government responded in opposition. ECF No. 52. A hearing was held on the matter on March 3, 2014, at which time the Court ruled from the bench that the instant Motion was DENIED. This Opinion further lays out the Court's reasoning on the matter.


Pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, "[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)(2)(B). "A defendant has no absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea, and the district court has discretion to decide whether a fair and just reason exists upon which to grant a withdrawal." United States v. Nicholson , 676 F.3d 376, 383-84 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Bowman , 348 F.3d 408, 413 (4th Cir. 2003), cert. denied. 540 U.S. 1226 (2004)).

The Fourth Circuit reviews a district court's ruling on a Rule 11 motion to withdraw a plea of guilty for abuse of discretion. Id. at 383. "A district court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary manner, when it fails to consider judicially-recognized factors limiting its discretion, or when it relies on erroneous factual or legal premises." Id . (quoting United States v. Henry , 673 F.3d 285, 291 (4th Cir. 2012). cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 182)).

"[A] plea of guilty is a solemn, judicial admission of the truth of the charge...." Via v. Superintendent, Powhatan Corr. Ctr. , 643 F.2d 167, 171 (4th Cir. 1981) (citing Blackledce v. Allison , 431 U.S. 63 (1977)). As such, "statements...that facially demonstrate the validity of... [a defendant's] plea are conclusive unless... [a defendant] presents reasons why this should not be so." Id . (citing Crawford v. United States , 519 F.2d 347, 350 (4th Cir. 1975)).

As the Fourth Circuit explained in United States v. Nicholson .

"The most important consideration in resolving a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is an evaluation of the Rule 11 colloquy at which the guilty plea was accepted." Bowman , 348 F.3d at 414. "Thus, when a district court considers the plea withdrawal motion, the inquiry is ordinarily confined to whether the underlying plea was both counseled and voluntary." Id (quotation marks omitted). "A voluntary and intelligent plea of guilty is an admission of all the elements of a formal criminal charge and constitutes an admission of all material facts alleged in the charge. Accordingly, a properly conducted Rule 11 guilty plea colloquy leaves a defendant with a very limited basis upon which to have ...

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