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United States v. Piper

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

July 20, 2018


          OPINION AND ORDER [1]


         Before the Court is Defendant William Piper's Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea (Doc. 74) and the Government's response in opposition (Doc. 75). For the following reasons, the Court denies Piper's motion.


         On January 26, 2017, Lee County Sheriff's Office Detective Dash Lockhart was at a UPS shipping facility in Fort Myers, Florida. Detective Lockhart's canine partner alerted him that a parcel addressed to “Jay Piper” had illegal drugs. Detective Lockhart opened the parcel (per a search warrant) and found about one pound of methamphetamine. Detective Lockhart got another search warrant for the home that the parcel was headed to. Later that day, an officer posed as a UPS driver, delivered the parcel and handed it to Piper.

         Detectives executed the search warrant later that evening. They found Piper in the garage with the identified parcel and the methamphetamine. More methamphetamine was in the home with cash, firearms, and drug paraphernalia. Detectives arrested Piper and several others in the house. Post-Miranda, Piper “admitted that he was the intended recipient of the parcel containing methamphetamine, that he in fact opened the parcel, and that he sells methamphetamine.” (Doc. 3 at 21).

         Six months later, the Government filed a one-count Information against Piper for knowingly and intentionally possessing more than 500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. (Doc. 2). Piper waived prosecution by indictment. (Doc. 12).

         Pertinent here, Piper's husband, Brandon Partridge-Piper, was among those arrested in the sting. But the husband faced only state charges for trafficking in amphetamine. (Doc. 54 at ¶ 56); see State of Florida v. Brandon Partridge-Piper, 17-CF-14382. The State of Florida eventually dropped the case with a Notice of Nolle Prosequi allegedly because of “a lack of evidence and the prosecuting agency's inability to prove a prima facie case of actual or constructive possession as to Brandon Partridge-[P]iper.” (Doc. 74 at 2). According to Defendant, the State of Florida had “the same facts, circumstances, and controlled delivery of methamphetamine that the United States is currently utilizing and relying upon in [his] Federal Criminal case[.]” (Id.).

         About two months after the State of Florida filed the Notice of Nolle Prosequi for Patridge-Piper, Judge McCoy held an initial appearance, arraignment, detention, and plea agreement hearing for Piper. (Doc. 10). Piper was present, represented by counsel, and placed under oath. He pled guilty to the Information's sole count per the Plea Agreement (Doc. 3; Doc. 12; Doc. 13).

         Before the plea colloquy, Judge McCoy asked Piper about his mental health and medications to decide his competency to enter a plea. (Doc. 75-1). Piper answered the questions without issue, and neither Piper's attorney nor the Government expressed concern about Piper's competency. Judge McCoy found Piper to be competent to continue with the plea colloquy.

         Judge McCoy then examined Piper on the subjects covered in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11. Piper heard Judge McCoy explain his rights during a criminal case and that he would waive those rights by pleading guilty. Piper acknowledged that he understood the charges against him and the potential sentence he faced. He also confirmed that he read the Plea Agreement and reviewed it with his attorney before signing it. The Government then described the factual basis for its case against Piper, and Judge McCoy found an independent basis in fact to support the elements of the charge. Piper also stated that he was pleading guilty of his own volition, and nobody threatened, forced, or intimidated him about his decision. He also said that he was satisfied with his attorney's representation.

         After confirming that Piper had no questions and there was nothing else of which the Court should be aware, Judge McCoy made these findings, all which Piper agreed with:

I find that you, William Piper, are now alert and intelligent, that you understand the nature of the charges against you and the possible penalties, and that you appreciate the consequences of pleading guilty.
I also find that the facts that the United States is prepared to prove and which by your guilty plea you admit based on the facts in the plea agreement to which there is no objection and our discussion here today, state all of the essential elements of the offenses to which you have pled guilty.
I further find that your decision to plead guilty is freely, voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently made, and that you have had the advice and counsel of a competent ...

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