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United States v. Broecker

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

October 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
STEPHANIE BROECKER, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO WITHDRAW GUILTY PLEA

          KAREN E. SCHREIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant, Stephanie Broecker, moves under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(d) to withdraw her guilty plea. Docket 85. The government opposes the motion. Docket 107. For the following reasons, the court denies Broecker's motion to withdraw her guilty plea.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 4, 2018, a federal grand jury named Broecker in an indictment, charging her with distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death. Docket 1. The indictment stated Broecker distributed heroin to K.P. and that his death resulted from use of that heroin. Docket 1. On November 16, 2017, Broecker mailed K.P. heroin from Rockford, Illinois. Docket 107 at 1. Earlier that morning, K.P. wired Broecker $150 in exchange. Id. Broecker included a note with the heroin that warned K.P. to be careful when using the drug. Id. at 1-2.

         K.P. was found dead on November 19, 2017 after a night of drug use with friends in Fedora, South Dakota. Docket 88 at 10; Docket 107 at 2. His blood tested positive for morphine and THC. Docket 107 at 2; Docket 88 at 12; Docket 88-1 at 22. His urine contained methamphetamine, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, and 6-monoacetylmorphine. Docket 107 at 2-3; Docket 88 at 12; Docket 88-1 at 25. The heroin sent from Broecker to K.P. was tested and found to contain 89% pure heroin. Docket 88 at 11; Docket 88-1 at 13. No. other substances were identified. Docket 88 at 11.

         After the indictment, Broecker was initially represented by the Federal Public Defender's office. Docket 14. She retained private counsel several weeks later and was represented by Lawrence S. Beaumont, an attorney based in Palos Heights, Ilinois. Docket 35. Rick L. Ramstad was local counsel. Docket 31.

         On December 6, 2018, a plea agreement, sealed plea agreement supplement, and statement of factual basis-all signed by Broecker, Ramstad, and Beaumont-were filed with the court. Dockets 51, 52, 53. In the statement of factual basis, Broecker states:

On or about November 16, 2017, I mailed heroin from Rockford, Illinois, to [K.P.] in Fedora, South Dakota, utilizing the United States Postal Service. [K.P.] received the U.S. Postal parcel that contained the heroin on November 18, 2017, in South Dakota. [K.P.] ingested the heroin that I sent him in the evening of November 18, 2017, and early morning hours of November 19, 2017. On November 19, 2017, [K.P.] died. Minnehaha County Coroner Dr. Kenneth Snell determined that [K.P.'s] cause of death was heroin toxicity, and that but for the use of the heroin I sent [K.P.], he would not have died on November 19, 2017.

Docket 52 at 1.

         On December 10, 2018, the court held a change of plea hearing. Docket 55. Ramstad attended the hearing. Id. At the hearing, Broeker was placed under oath and participated in a Rule 11 colloquy with the court. Docket 96 at 2-14. The court questioned Broecker regarding all the relevant requirements of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1). See Id. The court told Broecker she faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a possible maximum sentence of up to life if she pleaded guilty. Id. at 8. The court then asked Broecker if she understood. Id. Broecker responded that she did understand. Id.

         The court asked if Broecker was “fully satisfied with the counsel, representation, and advice that [she] received” from her attorney. Id. at 5. Broecker responded, “Absolutely, Your Honor.” Id. The court continued, confirming with Broecker that she had discussed the plea agreement with both Beaumont and Ramstad. Id. at 5-6. Broecker stated that she had. Id. at 6. The court asked Broecker if anyone “made any promise or assurance to [her] that's not written down in the plea agreement or the plea agreement supplement to try to persuade [her] to accept those agreements.” Id. at 6. Broecker confirmed no one had made such promises. Id. The court asked Broecker if she understood she could be sentenced more severely than she anticipated. Id. She stated that she understood. Id. The court asked Broecker if she had read the factual basis statement and if everything in the factual basis statement was the truth. Id. at 12. She confirmed she had read it before she signed it and it was the truth. Id. Broecker entered a plea of guilty to the charge and the court accepted the plea and found her guilty. Id. at 14.

         Broecker then moved to remain out of custody pending sentencing. Id. at 17. In response, the court asked the government if it was going to recommend that no sentence of imprisonment be imposed on Broecker to determine whether Broecker overcame the presumption of detention under 18 U.S.C. § 3143. Id. at 18. The government stated that it would be recommending the mandatory 20-year minimum sentence. Id.

         More than two months later, on February 26, 2018, Broecker, through Ramstad, filed an ex parte motion to discharge Beaumont and appoint Ramstad as her attorney. Docket 58. In an attached affidavit, Broecker stated that Beaumont, a friend of her father's, had been retained by her mother to represent her. Docket 58-1 ¶ 3. Broecker claimed in the affidavit that Beaumont had initially indicated that the case had “significant legal issues” and he planned to obtain a forensic evaluation of the evidence. Id. ¶ 4. The issues Beaumont referred to arose in part because of a toxicology report that had been performed for the government by Axis Forensic Technology, which indicated that K.P.'s urine tested positive for fentanyl at the time of his death. See Docket 107-2 at 7. The same report also reported that K.P.'s blood contained cannabinoids, THC, and morphine. Id. at 4.

         In the affidavit, Broecker stated that Beaumont requested money from her mother to retain an expert for an independent evaluation of the toxicology evidence. Docket 58-1 ¶ 6. But Beaumont did not provide copies of reports or expert findings to Broecker or her family members before he presented the plea agreement to her. Id. When Broecker asked about the expert opinion, Beaumont told her that the government had a witness who would testify that the heroin caused K.P.'s death. Id. ...


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