United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
Ramseyer, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon,
Virginia, for United States; Nancy C. Dickenson, Assistant
Federal Public Defender, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones United States District Judge.
defendant, Ray Merrill Stapleton, has filed a Motion to
Withdraw Guilty Plea pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal
Procedure 11(d)(2)(B), which the government opposes. After
reviewing the record and applicable law, I will deny the
Factual Summary and Procedural History.
29, 1988, Stapleton pleaded guilty in an Arizona state court
to one count of Attempted Child Molestation, pursuant to
Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-1410 and 13-1001. As a
result of this conviction, he was required to register as a
sex offender pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. §
13-3821(A)(7). Stapleton was sentenced to seven years
imprisonment. After being released on work furlough in
October 1990, he was paroled on December 26, 1991. He
subsequently registered as a sex offender in Arizona.
Stapleton signed and initialed registration documents
acknowledging that he understood that he was required to
register as a sex offender, that this requirement was a
lifetime requirement, and that if he chose to relocate to
another state, he was obligated to comply with the
registration requirements of that state. Gov't Ex. 3,
Hr'g Feb. 28, 2017, ECF No. 35-4.
around 2011, Stapleton relocated to Virginia. He did not
register as a sex offender in Virginia. On September 30,
2016, a Criminal Complaint filed in this court charged
Stapleton with failing to register as a sex offender pursuant
to 18 U.S.C. § 2250, and he was subsequently arrested on
October 3, 2016. On October 17, 2016, he waived his right to
prosecution by Indictment and was charged by Information with
one count of failure to register under 18 U.S.C. §
2250(a). The Information alleges that Stapleton “[i]n
or about September 2016 . . . knowingly failed to register
and update his registration as required by the Sex Offender
Registration and Notification Act, after having traveled in
interstate commerce.” Information ¶ 1, ECF No. 17.
He pleaded guilty to the Information that same day.
point following his arrest, Stapleton attempted to register
as a sex offender in Virginia. On November 3, 2016, the
Virginia State Police sent a letter to the Superintendent of
the Southwest Regional Jail, asserting that Stapleton was
not required to register as a sex offender in
Virginia. Def.'s Ex. 1, Hr'g Feb. 28, 2017, ECF No.
35-1. On January 6, 2017, the Virginia State Police sent an
identical copy of the letter directly to Stapleton. Mot. to
Withdraw, Ex. 1, ECF No. 29-1. In light of the contents of
this letter, along with discovery material disclosed by the
government, Stapleton filed his Motion to Withdraw Guilty
Plea on February 21, 2017. At a hearing on the motion held on
February 28, 2017, the government requested and was granted a
further thirty days to investigate the legal authority on the
issue. It subsequently filed a written response opposing the
motion on March 29, 2017. With its response, it submitted a
copy of a letter to Stapleton from the Virginia State Police
dated March 24, 2017, stating that the it had
“re-evaluted your registration and determined that your
conviction 13-1410 Molest a Child classifies you as
a sexual offender. Therefore, your re-registration date has
been changed to annually from the date of your initial
registration. This letter supersedes any prior letter(s) you
may have received regarding registration requirements.”
Gov't's Resp. Opp'n Mot. to Withdraw, Attach. A,
ECF No. 37-1.
Parties' Arguments and Applicable Law.
seeks to withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 11(d)(2)(B). The Rule provides that
“[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.
Fourth Circuit has set forth six factors a district court
should consider in determining whether a defendant has met
his burden of showing a “fair and just reason”
supporting his motion to withdraw. These factors include:
(1) whether the defendant has offered credible evidence that
his plea was not knowing or not voluntary, (2) whether the
defendant has credibly asserted his legal innocence, (3)
whether there has been a delay between the entering of the
plea and the filing of the motion, (4) whether defendant has
had close assistance of competent counsel, (5) whether
withdrawal will cause prejudice to the government, and (6)
whether it will inconvenience the court and waste judicial
United States v. Moore, 931 F.2d 245, 248 (4th Cir.
initially asserted that he was legally innocent of the
offense charged in the Information because, pursuant to the
November 3 and January 6 letters from the Virginia State
Police, he was not actually required to register as a sex
offender in Virginia. Def.'s Mot. to Withdraw 3, ECF No.
29. He further asserted that his guilty plea was not knowing
and voluntary because at the time he entered it, “he
was unaware that he was not required to register as a sex
offender in Virginia.” Id. Following the March
24 letter from the Virginia State Police stating that
Stapleton is required to register as a sex offender,
Stapleton contends that it was nevertheless a “legal
impossibility for [him] to register as a sex offender”
between November 3, 2016 and March 24, 2017, because during
that time, the Virginia State Police “deemed it
unnecessary for [him] to register.” Def.'s Reply
Supp. Mot. to Withdraw 1, ECF No. 40. He asserts that he is
“entitled to withdraw his guilty plea based on his
legal innocence” and that he should be afforded
“the full benefit of the knowledge that he now
possesses about the specific law and facts of his case in
determining whether to proceed to trial or not.”
Id. at 2.
government contends that Stapleton was definitively required
to register as a sex offender pursuant to Virginia state law.
Gov't's Resp. Opp'n Mot. to Withdraw 1, ECF No.
37. It asserts that “[a] letter from the Virginia State
Police erroneously interpreting the law is not a basis for a
withdrawal of [his] guilty plea.” Id. at 2.
Because “Stapleton pled guilty believing, correctly,
that he was required to register in Virginia and . . . failed