United States District Court, S.D. New York
April 19, 2004.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, -against- PETER CORINES, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GEORGE DANIELS, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
During his jury trial for mail fraud, defendant pled guilty to one
count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and making false
statements in connection with health care matters, and one count of mail
fraud. Defendant now moves to withdraw his guilty plea. Defendant's
motion is denied.
On January 8, 2002, defendant Peter Corines ("defendant" or "Corines")
was charged, in a seven count indictment, with one count of conspiracy,
one count of health care fraud, one count of making false statements in
connection with health care matters, and four counts of mail fraud. A
superceding Indictment, filed by the government on September 30, 2003,
included four additional counts of mail fraud. Defendant pled not guilty
to the superceding indictment on November 3, 2003.
A trial date was set for December l, 2003. Prior to trial, the Court,
upon motion by the defendant, severed the counts of conspiracy, health
care fraud and making false statements in connection with health care
matters from the mail fraud counts. The December trial, therefore, was
limited to the eight mail fraud charges. On December l, 2003, the Court
conducted jury selection. Opening statements were given by the attorneys.
The government began presenting it's evidence on it's case in chief. On the second day of trial,
December 2, 2003, defense counsel interrupted the trial and informed the
Court that the defendant wished to withdraw his plea of not guilty and
plead guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement with the government.
The defendant then withdrew his plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty to
Counts One (conspiracy) and Six (mail fraud) of the superceding
indictment pursuant to a written agreement with the government which the
defendant personally executed in open court. On or about February 12,
2004, this Court received a letter from new counsel indicating that he
had been retained to represent the defendant. On or about February 24,
2004, this Court received a second letter from new counsel requesting
that defendant's March 3, 2004 sentencing date be adjourned for at least
30 days. On or about March 29, 2004, this Court received, with an
accompanying letter by defense counsel, a courtesy copy of defendant's
motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
Under Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(d)(2), a district court may permit a
defendant to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing if the defendant
"can show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal." The
decision to allow a guilty plea to be withdrawn is committed to the
discretion of the district judge. United States v. Torres,
129 F.3d 710, 715 (2d Cir. 1997). Furthermore, it is well settled that a
defendant has no "absolute right to withdraw [his] plea of guilty."
United States v. Karro, 257 F.3d 112, 117 (2d Cir. 2001).
"Society has a strong interest in the finality of guilty pleas, and
allowing withdrawal of pleas not only undermines confidence in the
integrity of our judicial procedures, but also increase the volume of
judicial work, and delays and impairs the orderly administration of
justice." United States v. Maher, 108 F.3d 1513, 1529 (2d Cir.
1997) (citations and quotations omitted). This societal interest is
particularly significant when an ongoing trial is terminated by the defendant's expressed desire to
abruptly plead guilty.
In determining whether a defendant has demonstrated a "fair and just
reason" for withdrawing his plea, "the district court should examine the
amount of time elapsed between the plea and the subsequent motion to
withdraw, and whether the defendant's motion to withdraw his plea
asserted his innocence, as well as giving due regard to any prejudice the
government might suffer as a result." Karro, 257 F.3d at 117
(citations and internal quotations omitted). In order to obtain
withdrawal of a guilty plea, the defendant must "raise a significant
question about the voluntariness of the original plea."
129 F.3d at 715. A defendant's admissions during a plea proceeding, and
any findings made by the court in accepting the plea, "constitute a
formidable barrier" to challenging the validity of the plea.
Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 (1977). A motion to
withdraw a guilty plea may be denied without a hearing where the
defendant's allegations "merely contradict the record," are "inherently
incredible" or are "simply conclusory." United States v.
Williams. 23 F.3d 629, 635 (2d Cir. 1994).
Furthermore, in reviewing a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, the court
"must draw all permissible inferences in favor of the government and
against the defendant." Maher, 108 F.3d at 1530. "A defendant's
bald statements that simply contradict what he said at his plea
allocution are not sufficient grounds to withdraw the guilty plea."
Torres, 129 F.3d at 715. See also United States v.
Hernandez, 242 F.3d 110, 112-113 (2d Cir. 2001)(finding that the
district court properly denied a motion to withdraw a guilty plea because
allegations that his attorney failed to advise the defendant of
consequences of plea contradicted sworn representations made during the
plea proceedings that the defendant understood the consequences of his
plea and reviewed the plea agreement with his attorney). Defendant claims that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea
because during his allocution there was no "strict adherence" by the
Court to the requirements of Fed.R.Crim.P. 11. First, defendant argues
that the Court did not fully inform him of the nature of the charges to
which he was pleading guilty. Second, although the Court informed him
that his plea agreement contained a provision waiving his right to
appeal, he argues that he was not specifically informed by the Court of
the waiver of his right to collaterally attack his sentenced
A. Nature of the Charges
Defendant argues that the Court's questioning of the defendant
regarding his understanding of the nature of the charges against him were
insufficient. "First, the Court merely informed Corines what the charges
were; it did not undertake in any way to inform him of the nature of
those charges." Defendant's Brief at 5. Defendant argues, therefore, that
"upon this record, it could not be determined that Corines truly
understood the nature of the charges to which he was pleading guilty."
Id at 6. Defendant further asserts that no "real notice of the
true nature of the charge" was given to him as "the relevant counts of
the indictment were not read to him nor were they even summarized for
him." Id. at 8. Instead, defendant asserts that he was "merely
informed as to how the charges that he was pleading guilty to were
Defendant's argument is simply without merit. During the defendant's
plea allocution, the Court clearly inquired as to the defendant's
understanding of the nature of the charges against him.
Court: Have you received a copy of the
Defendant: Yes sir.
Court: And have your read it?
Defendant: Yes sir.
Court: And have you discussed all the
charges in this indictment with your attorneys? Defendant: Yes sir.
Court: And do you understand that Count 1
of this indictment charges a conspiracy to commit
Healthcare fraud and to make false statements
relating to Healthcare matters in violation of
Title 18, United States Code, Section 371? Do you
understand the nature of that charge?
Court: Do you understand that Count 6
charges you with mail fraud [in] violation of
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341? Do you
understand the nature of that charge?
Court: Do you understand that, as I have
indicated, the government would have to prove each
and every part or element of each one of those
offenses against you, that is charged against you
beyond a reasonable doubt at trial?
Defendant: Yes sir.
Transcript 84-85. The defendant testified that he read the indictment
and discussed the nature of these charges with his attorney. This alone
is sufficient to ensure that he was aware of the nature of the charges.
See United States v. Juncal, 245 F.3d 166
, 171 (2d Cir.
2001)(holding that defendant was adequately advised of the nature of the
conspiracy and wire fraud charges against him where the "indictment was
exceptionally detailed and clearly explained the charges and their
elements" and the defendant "testified at his allocution that he had
reviewed the indictment and the plea agreement with his attorney, that
his attorney had explained those documents to him, and that he understood
Furthermore, the Court questioned the defendant as to his participation
in the offenses charged.
Court: Mr. Corines, why don't we start
with Count 1. Why don't you tell me what you did
in Count 1, the crime charged in Count 1, that
makes you guilty of that charge.
Defendant: Count 1, conspiracy. I agreed
with others to submit false claims for healthcare
services. In connection with that agreement, I
inflated claims for anesthesia services by
increasing the number of hours above the number I
Defendant then acknowledged that some of the services were provided in
Manhattan, that some of the insurers received the claim forms in the
Southern District of New York, and that the billing address was a Manhattan address. Transcript 90-91. With regards to
Count 6, the Court inquired as follows:
Court: And what did you do in connection
with Count 6 that makes you guilty of the mail
Defendant: In connection with claims for
disability insurance I filed, I falsely claimed
that I was not working during the specified time
period when I was, in fact, working as a physician
Court: When you did these acts, did you
know that what you were doing was wrong and
Defendant: l yes, I knew that my
conduct was unlawful.
Transcript 89-90. The defendant then acknowledged that, as a result of
his misrepresentation, U.S. Life Insurance Company mailed a $27,000
disability check to his apartment in Manhattan. Transcript 90-91. The
defendant's allocution established each element of both the conspiracy
charge and the mail fraud charge and supports a finding that the
defendant clearly understood the nature of the charges.*fn1
B. Waiver of Right to Collaterally Attack the Sentence
Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)(N) requires that "[b]efore accepting a plea
of guilty or nolo contendere, the court must address the defendant
personally in open court and inform the defendant of, and determine that
the defendant understands . . . the terms of any provision in a plea
agreement waiving the right to appeal or to collaterally attack the
sentence." The commentary to Rule 11 notes that the Advisory Committee
drafted the rule, in large part, to ensure that appellate waivers are
knowing and voluntary. See Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)(N),
advisory committee notes to 1999 amendments ("Given the increased use of
[waiver] provisions, the Committee believed it was important to insure
that, the waiver was voluntarily and knowingly made by the defendant."); see also United States v.
Vonn, 535 U.S. 55, 122 S.Ct. 1043, 1049 n. 6, 152 L.Ed.2d 90 (2002)
("[T]he Advisory Committee Notes provide a reliable source of insight
into the meaning of a rule, especially when, the rule was enacted
precisely as the Advisory Committee proposed.").
Defendant seeks to withdraw his guilty plea on the ground that, during
the plea allocution, the Court advised him that he had waived his right
to appeal, but did not advise him that he had waived his right to
collaterally attack his sentence. Citing Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)(N),
defendant argues that this Court had the obligation to make sure that
defendant understood that he was giving up this additional right of
collateral attack. As the Court did not specifically inquire as to the
right to collaterally attack his sentence, defendant argues that his
guilty plea should be vacated and his not guilty plea restored.
The Court, however, did inquire into the
defendant's understanding of the plea agreement
and specifically of the waiver of the defendant's
right to appeal.
Court: You understand that also pursuant
to this plea agreement, that you are giving up or
waiving your right to appeal if I sentence you
within the guideline range as set forth in the
plea agreement? Defendant: Yes.
Furthermore, during the Court's Rule 11 colloquy, the defendant
specifically stated, on the record, that he had signed the agreement, had
read the agreement before signing it, had discussed it with his attorneys
before signing it and that he fully understood the agreement before he
signed it. Transcript at 88. The Court further inquired as to the
completeness of the plea agreement and the defendant's understanding of
Court: Does this letter agreement
constitute your complete and total understanding
of the entire agreement entered into and signed by
the government, your attorney and you? Defendant: Yes.
Court: Is everything you understand about
your plea and sentence contained iii this
Defendant: I believe so.
Court: Has anything been left out, to
Defendant: No. No, sir.
Defendant's argument, therefore, that "nothing Corines said in the
entire proceeding shows that he was even aware of the provision, much
less understood its import and accepted it," is without merit and
unsupported by the factual record. Defendant's Brief at 10. Indeed, the
Court's questioning sufficiently shows that the defendant entered into
his plea agreement knowingly and voluntarily. See Garcia-Santos v.
United States, 273 F.3d 506
, 508 (2d Cir. 2001)(finding no error in
the District Court's determination that the defendant's plea agreement
was entered into knowingly and voluntarily, and with awareness of his
waiver of appeal and collateral attack in light of the fact that,
inter alia, the defendant signed the plea agreement, he stated
he had read and understood the plea agreement, and he did not claim that
he had not understood the waiver contained in his plea agreement).
Defendant, furthermore, does not even argue that he was unaware of the
waiver provision in his agreement at the time he entered his guilty plea.
Rather, his argument relies solely on his allegation that the Court did
not strictly adhere to Fed.R.Crim.P. 11 by not specifically inquiring
into his understanding of his waiver of his right to collaterally attack
his sentence. Defendant clearly understood that he was waiving any right
to appeal by the provisions referred to in his plea agreement.
Defendant's arguments in support of his motion to withdraw his guilty
plea do not provide a "fair and just reason" to grant his motion. His
allegations that he was not fully informed of the nature of the charges and his waiver of his right
to appeal merely attempt to contradict a clear record to the contrary.
Furthermore, any assertion by the defendant that he was not fully aware
of the nature of the charges against him and the full panoply of rights
that he was waiving by pleading guilty would be inherently incredible.
See United States v. Williams, 23 F.3d 629, 635 (2d Cir.
1994)(finding that a motion to withdraw a guilty plea may be denied
without a hearing where the defendant's allegations "merely contradict
the record," are "inherently incredible" or are "simply conclusory").
Defendant's guilty plea was clearly entered knowingly and voluntarily
with a foil understanding of the consequences of that plea. Defendant has
offered no reason to allow a withdrawal of his guilty plea. Defendant's
motion to withdraw his guilty plea is therefore denied.