United States District Court, D. Connecticut
CORRECTED RULING ON MOTION TO WITHDRAW GUITY PLEA AND
MOTION TO WITHDRAW AS COUNSEL
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
March 31, 2017, Mr. Eastman's counsel, Attorney Moira
Buckley, filed a motion to withdraw as counsel. The motion
indicated that Mr. Eastman had “advised counsel that he
wishes to withdraw his guilty plea and to inform the Court of
his decision, ” and that “the basis of Mr.
Eastman's motion to withdraw [his guilty plea] would
implicate undersigned counsel's representation of him and
could make her a witness in a hearing on any such
motion.” (ECF No. 105 at 1.) I held a hearing on the
motion to withdraw as counsel on April 12, 2017. At the
hearing, I instructed Mr. Eastman he could file a pro se
motion to withdraw his guilty plea and noted that I would
reserve judgment on the motion to withdraw as counsel. Mr.
Eastman has filed a motion to withdraw his plea of guilty.
For the reasons set forth below, I DENY the motion to
withdraw the plea of guilty (ECF No. 110) and GRANT the
motion to withdraw as counsel. (ECF No. 105.)
procedural history is set forth below.
January 7, 2016, the grand jury returned a two-count
indictment, charging Mr. Eastman with coercion and enticement
of minors in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), and
possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 2252A(a)(5)(B). (ECF No. 28.) On February 2, 2016, Mr.
Eastman was arraigned and pled not guilty to both counts.
(ECF No. 32.)
The Suppression Hearing
January 22, 2016, Mr. Eastman moved to suppress physical
evidence and certain incriminating statements he made to law
enforcement officers. (ECF No. 30) The physical evidence and
statements arose from a 2012 investigation into Mr.
Eastman's alleged crimes. Detectives went to Mr.
Eastman's home and discussed their investigation with Mr.
Eastman. (ECF No. 72 at 7.) Mr. Eastman gave the detectives
his desktop computer and agreed to accompany them to the
police station. (Id. at 8.) At the police station,
Mr. Eastman signed a detailed written confession and
acknowledgement-of-rights and consent-to-search forms.
(Id. at 9-10.) In his motion to suppress, Mr.
Eastman argued: (i) the police's search and seizure were
illegal because they were conducted without consent or a
warrant, and (ii) he never received a Miranda warning and the
police forged his signature on his confession statement and
consent-to-search and acknowledgement-of-rights forms. I held
a hearing on the motion on May 31, 2016. At the hearing, the
government presented three witnesses - officers Peter Morgan,
David Termi, and William Fox - and the defense presented a
single witness, Linda Eastman (Mr. Eastman's mother). Mr.
Eastman did not testify, but he submitted an affidavit, which
I considered. (Id. at 2.)
August 15, 2016, I denied Mr. Eastman's motion to
suppress because I found that “Mr. Eastman consented to
the search and seizure and received adequate Miranda
warnings when they were required.” (Id.) In
particular, I found that Mr. Eastman voluntarily signed a
written statement setting forth “in graphic detail Mr.
Eastman's use of his computer to lure underage girls into
performing sexually explicit activity.” (Id.
at 9.) I also found that Mr. Eastman signed statements
acknowledging that he was “repeatedly advised of his
constitutional rights and consented to the search of his
computer.” (Id. at 9-10.) I rejected as not
credible Mr. Eastman's assertions that he did not consent
to the entry of his apartment or the seizure of his computer,
and that his signatures on the confession statement,
consent-to-search, and acknowledgment-of-rights forms were
forged. I found his affidavit not to be credible because,
among other things, it “directly contradicted
substantial evidence.” (Id. at 11.) On these
grounds, and others set forth in the ruling, I denied Mr.
Eastman's motion to suppress.
First Motion to Withdraw As Counsel On August 17,
2016, two days after my ruling on the motion to suppress,
Attorney Kelly Barrett of the Federal Defender's Office,
who was then representing Mr. Eastman, filed a motion to
withdraw as his counsel. (ECF No. 73) On August 22, 2016, I
held a hearing on Attorney Barrett's motion and granted
it. I also gave Mr. Eastman the following warning:
THE COURT: Finally, and this is important, you should also
understand that if I were to grant this motion and appoint a
lawyer from the CJA panel to represent you and then a month
or two down the line I get another one of these
motions….it's likely at that point that I will
begin to conclude that you are the one contributing to the
breakdown in the relationship between you and your lawyers.
And that is a factor that the Court of Appeal[s] has
instructed me to consider, who's responsible for the
breakdown. Now, on the first one, sometimes people don't
get along very well. I understand that…But when it
starts to happen repeatedly with the same person then the
Court starts to wonder if it's that person's
fault…at some point -- here's where this is going
-- what the Court typically says, and what I will do in that
situation, I'll say…you have your choice, you can
either keep this lawyer or you can represent yourself. Do you
MR. EASTMAN: I understand.
(ECF No. 111 at 12-13.) The same day Attorney Buckley was
appointed from the CJA panel to represent Mr. Eastman.
The Change of Plea
several motions to continue jury selection on the basis that
the defense required additional time for a forensic computer
expert to conduct a review of the computer evidence in the
case -- motions which the Court granted --, and after the
forensic expert completed his review, and after Mr. Eastman
consulted with Attorney Buckley concerning the results of
that discovery and the case more fully, Mr. Eastman, through
his counsel, notified the Court of his desire to plead guilty
to count one of the indictment. On March 2, 2017, Mr. Eastman
appeared before me at a change of plea hearing, where he was
placed under oath. Before accepting his guilty plea, I
conducted an extensive inquiry to ensure Mr. Eastman was
pleading guilty voluntarily, knowingly, and after due
consideration with the advice of his counsel, with whom he
indicated he was satisfied. I also advised Mr. Eastman of the
rights he was waiving by pleading guilty and verified that he
understood that he was waiving those rights. After these
colloquies, Mr. Eastman indicated that he still desired to
plead guilty. Thereafter, he admitted his guilt and pled
guilty to count one of the indictment, and I accepted his
guilty plea. He also entered into a written plea agreement
with the Government.
The Motion to Withdraw Mr. Eastman's Guilty Plea
standard for withdrawing a guilty plea is stringent.”
U.S. v. Rosen, 409 F.3d 535, 546 (2d Cir.
2005)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A
defendant may withdraw his guilty plea after the Court
accepts it but before sentencing only if he “can show a
fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal.”
Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2)(B). “The court has
[discretion to allow a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea]
where the moving defendant satisfies the court that there are
valid reasons for withdrawal of the plea and the court
concludes that those reasons outweigh any prejudice to the
government and the strong societal interest in the finality
of guilty pleas.” Rosen, 409 F.3d at 546. A
defendant “bears the burden of satisfying the trial
judge that there are valid grounds for the withdrawal.”
U.S. v. Gonzalez, 970 F.2d 1095, 1100 (2d Cir.
1992)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
as I can discern from Mr. Eastman's motion, he asserts
two principal grounds to withdraw his plea - (i) he was
“pressure[d] by [Attorney] Buckley and [the]
prosecution to accept the plea agreement” and was not
“provided the information necessary to arrive at an
informed decision” (ECF No. 110 at 2-3), and (ii) he
had “ineffective assistance of counsel.”
(Id. at 2.) I examine each of these bases below. I
also consider whether any other “fair and just”
reason exists for granting Mr. Eastman's motion,
including “(1) whether the defendant has asserted his
or her legal innocence in the motion to withdraw the guilty
plea; (2) the amount of time that has elapsed between the
plea and the motion (the longer the elapsed time, the less
likely withdrawal would be fair and just); and (3) whether
the government would be prejudiced by a withdrawal of the
plea.” Rosen, 409 F.3d at 546 (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
Allegations of Coercion
Mr. Eastman alleges that he was coerced into pleading guilty
by both the Government and his attorney, and that he was not
given enough information to reach an informed decision.
“Where a motion to withdraw a plea is premised on
involuntariness, the defendant must raise a significant
question about the voluntariness of the original plea.”
U.S. v. Doe, 537 F.3d 204, 211 (2d Cir.
2008)(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). No
such question is raised where “[a] defendant's bald
statements  simply contradict what he said at his plea
allocution.” Id.; see also Adames v.
U.S., 171 F.3d 728, 732 (2d Cir. 1999)(“A criminal
defendant's self-inculpatory statements made under oath
at his plea allocution carry a strong presumption of verity,
and are generally treated as conclusive in the face of the
defendant's later attempt to contradict them.”
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). But bald
statements are all Mr. Eastman relies on. Mr. Eastman claims
- for the first time - that he was “pressured”
into the plea agreement. (ECF No. 110 at 2.) He bolsters that
claim with other conclusory statements - Attorney Buckley
“push[ed] [him] into a plea agreement”,
(Id. at 10), “Mr. Eastman felt
defenseless”, (Id. at 12), “[t]he plea
agreement seemed to be an inevitability rather than an
option”, (Id. at 8), “[a]t no time was
Mr. Eastman provided the information necessary to arrive at
an informed decision”, (Id. at 3) - purporting
to show he had “no choice” but to plead guilty.
(Id. at 12.) As shown below, these statements
contradict those he made while under oath at the change of
plea hearing. The change of plea hearing began with the
following introduction from the Court:
THE COURT: The first thing I want to tell you is to take your
time. The decisions you have to make today are important and
it's important that you completely understand what's
going on in the courtroom and what you're doing before
you make those decisions. If you have any problems or
questions during this proceeding at any time, please let me
know or, if you need time to speak privately with your
lawyer, Attorney Buckley, please let me know that and I will
give you all the time that you need. Do you understand?
[MR. EASTMAN]: Yes, sir.
(ECF No. 112 at 2-3.) I inquired whether defense counsel had
adequate time to discuss the change of plea with Mr. Eastman.
THE COURT: We spoke on the phone the other day just to
schedule this hearing. I don't know whether you were able
to meet with your client ahead of time.
MS. BUCKLEY: I was able to meet him yesterday, and then I saw
him again briefly this morning - - not this morning, this
afternoon. But I was able to meet with him down in Bridgeport
THE COURT: Very well. Thank you. ….
THE COURT: Attorney Buckley, from your perspective, have you
had enough time and information to allow for meaningful
discussion with the Defendant about the case?
MS. BUCKLEY: Yes, Your Honor.
(ECF No. 112 at 6-7.)
Thereafter, Mr. Eastman, who was placed under oath, made the
following sworn statements in response to my questions about
whether he had had enough time and information to consider
THE COURT: Mr. Eastman, from your perspective, have you had
enough opportunity and enough information to discuss the case
with your lawyer?
[MR. EASTMAN]: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Eastman, did you receive a copy of the
Indictment in this case?
[MR. EASTMAN]: Yes.
THE COURT: And you've read it?
[MR. EASTMAN]: Yes.
THE COURT: And you've had -- have you had a chance to
consult with your lawyer about the charges?
[MR. EASTMAN]: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: I'm sorry?
[MR. EASTMAN]: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Do you understand the charges ...