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United States v. Wilson

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 7, 2017



          JOEL SCHNEIDER United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on defendant's “Motion to Modify Conditions of Release.” [Doc. No. 40]. The Court received the government's opposition [Doc. No. 41] and held a hearing and oral argument on April 5, 2017. The issue to be addressed is whether this defendant who is awaiting sentencing on June 16, 2017, after pleading guilty to two felony charges, and who is currently housed at a reentry facility in Newark, New Jersey, may be released on bail to work outside the facility. For the reasons to be discussed defendant's motion is GRANTED.


         Defendant was arrested on August 5, 2016, by the Camden City Police. On September 9, 2016, a federal complaint was filed [Doc. No. 1] and defendant was taken into federal custody. Thereafter, defendant moved for release from custody. [Doc. No. 12]. The government moved for detention and steadfastly objected to defendant's release. [Doc. No. 14]. Defendant's motion resulted in substantial background and investigative work and several bail hearings. On December 21, 2016, the Court Ordered defendant released on conditions. See Condition of Release Order [Doc. No. 23]. The unique aspect of defendant's bail was that he was released to be placed in a Residential Reentry Program, owned and operated by GEO Group, Inc., in Newark, New Jersey. To the best of the Court's knowledge, defendant was the first New Jersey pre-trial detainee to be placed in this program. He also is the first GEO placement who pleaded guilty but is awaiting sentencing. Amongst defendant's 26 conditions of release was the requirement that he be barred from leaving the facility except for court and medical purposes to be expressly approved by U.S. Pretrial Services. Id. at &4. Due to contractual complications, defendant was not placed in GEO's facility until on or about January 24, 2017. By all accounts defendant has complied with his conditions of release and has been an active and willing participant in GEO's rehabilitation programs. See Mot. at 5.

         On March 7, 2017, defendant pleaded guilty to a two-count information. [Doc. No. 38]. Count One charged defendant with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base (“crack cocaine”), a Schedule II controlled substance, contrary to 21 U.S.C. §' 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Count Two charged defendant with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). Bail was ordered to remain the same. Defendant's sentencing is scheduled on June 16, 2017 before the Honorable Jerome B. Simandle, Chief, U.S. District Judge.

         Defendant's present motion seeks to modify his bail to permit him to work outside the reentry facility as a part of GEO's Residential Reentry Program.[1] As presented at the April 5, 2017 hearing, defendant proposes to work at the Regional Garbage Company in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Mot. at 5. Defendant will be subject at all times to GPS monitoring.[2] At the April 5 hearing the Court heard from defendant's Case Manager, Mr. Walton, and GEO's Job Developer, Mr. Dobson. They both impressed the Court with their knowledge, experience and professionalism. They both also attested to defendant's good behavior and opined that defendant was a good candidate to be released to work.

         Defendant objects to releasing defendant to work outside the GEO facility. Two main issues were addressed at the April 5, 2017 hearing. First, whether the Court had the authority to Order defendant released to work and, if so, the legal standard that must be met. The second issue addressed was whether defendant met the standard to be released. Since defendant has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, the parties agree these issues involve 18 U.S.C. § 3143(a) and ' 3145(c). This Order supplements the Court's April 5, 2017 Oral Opinion granting defendant's motion.


         The Court holds that it has the discretionary authority to release defendant if the necessary statutory criteria are met. As an initial matter, it is apparent that ' 3143(a)(2) provides no relief to defendant. Under this section a prerequisite to releasing defendant is either “a substantial likelihood that a motion for acquittal or new trial will be granted, ” or “the Government has recommended that no sentence of imprisonment be imposed” on defendant. See 18 U.S.C. § 3143(a)(2). Defendant does not quarrel that neither of these conditions exist. Therefore, defendant's only hope for relief is ' 3145(c) which states:

Appeal from a release or detention order. An appeal from a release or detention order, or from a decision denying revocation or amendment of such an order, is governed by the provisions of section 1291 of title 28 and section 3731 of this title. The appeal shall be determined promptly. 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 exceptional reasons why such person's detention would not be appropriate.

18 U.S.C. § 3145(c). When read in conjunction with ' 3143(a)(1), the language of ' 3145(c) permits a judicial officer to release defendant upon a showing 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, and that there are exceptional reasons why detention pending sentencing is inappropriate.

         The authority under ' 3145(c) is mixed. The majority or “lopsided” view holds that judicial officers may release convicted individuals pending sentencing for “exceptional reasons.” United States v. Williams, 903 F.Supp.2d 292, 298 (M.D. Pa. 2012). The minority view holds that the “exceptional reasons” provision of ' 3145(c) only provides discretionary authority to release to U.S. Courts of Appeal. Id. at 296-98. The Third Circuit has not yet addressed whether a district court can order a convicted defendant's release for “exceptional reasons” pursuant to ' 3145(c). Id. at 296. However, the Court adopts the cogent reasoning in Williams, supra, and holds it has the authority to release defendant for “exceptional reasons.”

         The court in Williams began its analysis by noting that the Bail Reform Act provides a statutory definition of “judicial officer” as used in ' 3145(c). Id. at 298 (“In fact, the Bail Reform Act defines ‘judicial officer' as ‘unless otherwise indicated, any person or court authorized ... to detain or release a person before trial or sentencing or pending appeal in a court of the United States ....”) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3156(a)(1)). Further, the court noted that the term “judicial officer” is used throughout the Bail Reform Act to refer to “judges at all levels of the judicial system.” Id. (citing United States v. Price, 618 F.Supp.2d 473, 479 (W.D. N.C. 2008)). When taken in context with ' 3141, the Williams decision and this Court agree that the final sentence of ' 3145(c) authorizes district and appellate courts to release a defendant prior to sentencing upon a finding of exceptional reasons. Id. at 299.[3]

         To the extent there may be some misunderstanding from the title of ' 3145(c) which states, “Appeal from a release or detention order, ” Williams reasoned there is nothing “illogical” about the placement of the title. Id. (“To the contrary, it simply reflects the practical necessity of permitting district courts to undertake the threshold analysis of exceptional reasons.”). Accordingly, Williams held that the express language of ' 3145(c) clearly ...

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