United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division
OPINION & ORDER
COKE MORGAN, JR. SENIOR UNITED STALES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter came before the Court on the Motion to Withdraw
("Motion") filed by Crystina O'Brien, counsel
for Defendant Alexander Santiago ("Defendant").
Doc. 43. On October 19, 2017, the Court convened a hearing,
heard argument on the Motion, and ruled from
the bench. The Court DENIED the Motion and
now issues this Opinion and Order setting forth the reasons
for its ruling in further detail.
February 15, 2017, a grand jury indicted Defendant on four
(4) counts, charging Defendant with: (1) Conspiracy to
Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute One Hundred
(100) Grams or More of Heroin; (2) Distribution of Heroin,
(3) Distribution of Heroin, and (4) Possession with Intent to
Distribute Heroin. Doc. 1.
filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence on April 14, 2017. Doc.
14. The United States of America (the "Government")
responded in opposition on April 20, 2017. Doc. 17. The
Government also filed a criminal information and notice
establishing a prior conviction pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §
851. Doc. 18. The Court convened a hearing on the Motion to
Suppress and DENIED the Motion. Docs. 27, 29.
30, 2017, the Court began a jury trial in the instant matter.
After two (2) days of evidence and argument, the jury
returned a verdict of guilty on all four (4) counts of the
indictment, along with a finding that Count One (1) involved
one hundred (100) grams or more of heroin. Doc. 36.
United States Probation Office filed the initial version of
the Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") on
September 13, 2017, and the final version on October 6, 2017.
Docs. 39, 41. Defendant's counsel filed the instant
Motion on October 12, 2017. Doc. 43.
Sixth Amendment generally protects the right of a defendant
to select his counsel. United States v.
Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140, 144 (2006). One limit on
that right is that it "does not extend to defendants who
require counsel to be appointed for them." Id.
at 151. In such cases, the defendant must show good cause
before the Court appoints new counsel. United States v.
Mullen. 32 F.3d 891, 895 (4th Cir. 1994). The Fourth
Circuit examines three (3) factors when reviewing decisions
on Motions to Withdraw: "(1) timeliness of the motion;
(2) adequacy of the court's inquiry; and (3) 'whether
the attorney/client conflict was so great that it had
resulted in total lack of communication preventing an
adequate defense.'" United States v.
Blackledge, 751 F.3d 188, 194 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting
United States v. Gallop, 838 F.2d 105, 108 (4th Cir.
instant Motion is not timely. It resulted from a letter that
Defendant sent to his counsel on October 10, 2017, indicating
that he wished to change counsel. See Doc. 43 at 1. The trial
in this matter occurred on May 30-31, 2017, and Defendant
waited until four (4) months after trial to seek new counsel.
Thus, the timing weighs against granting the Motion.
Court investigated the reason for the Motion at a hearing and
found no good cause for granting it. The only change between
end of trial and when Defendant wrote the letter was that he
had reviewed the PSR in his case. It appears that Defendant
belatedly made his request for new counsel because of the
mandatory minimum noted in the PSR, or at least because of
the imminence of sentencing, not because of any acts of his
counsel. The Court inquired into the prior plea offer, which
involved the Government not filing a notice to establish a
prior conviction and thus avoiding a mandatory minimum. The
Government represented that it communicated the offer and the
mandatory minimum issue to Defendant's counsel.
Defendant's counsel represented at the hearing that she
informed Defendant of both the offer and the mandatory
minimum should he not accept the plea deal. The Court also
gave Defendant the opportunity to state his reasons for
wanting new counsel. He refused to make a statement under
oath for fear of any effects on an appeal in this case, but
he did note that his problem with his counsel concerned some
issues at trial. Thus, based on the statements of the
Government, Defendant's counsel, and Defendant, the Court
had no basis for finding good cause to grant the Motion.
breakdown in communications did not impair the defense in
this case. Defendant's refusal to communicate with his
lawyer began in October, long after the defenses at trial
occurred. No other counsel could have performed better for
Defendant at sentencing because he was facing a mandatory
minimum well above his Guidelines range, the Government was
only seeking the mandatory minimum, see Doc. 40, and the
Court imposed the mandatory minimum. Thus, Defendant did not
lack an adequate defense at sentencing.
based on a consideration of these three (3) factors, the
Court did not find any good cause for ...