Most criminal cases, including drug cases, are resolved without a trial via a process known as plea bargaining. In that process, both the government and the defense negotiate an agreement as to the outcome of a case, such as the length of any incarceration and/or probation and the requirement of any special conditions such as drug treatment, counseling, curfews and maintaining gainful employment. The plea agreement is then presented to the court. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the court approves and implements the agreement as the final judgment in the case. A federal case in West Virginia this summer, and most recently, a state court memorandum issued in St. Johns County last week, however, may well signal the end of plea bargaining in cases in the greater Jacksonville area involving the manufacture, sale or distribution of opioids.
On June 26, 2017 United States District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin in the Southern District of West Virginia rejected a plea agreement reached between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Defendant, Charles York Walker, Jr. There, Mr. Walker had been indicted for three counts of distributing heroin, two counts of distributing fentanyl and one count for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Through plea bargaining, Mr. Walker pleaded guilty to a single count of distributing heroin and the government dropped the other charges.
Mr. Walker’s plea agreement was then presented to the court for acceptance. To pretty much everyone’s surprise, Judge Goodwin rejected the agreement. In doing so, Judge Goodwin first noted the defendant had a substantial criminal history and that the case facts demonstrated Mr. Walker was engaged in a “continuous drug dealing enterprise.” Continue reading