United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
L. CARTER, JR., United States District Judge
Government charged Benjamin Boamah with two counts of
conspiring to violate the narcotics laws by conspiring to
import and sell heroin in the United States. In September
2015, Boamah pled guilty to both counts of the Indictment.
Boamah now desires to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to
trial. For the following reasons, the Court denies
Boamah's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
September 26, 2014, after being arrested in his native Ghana,
Boamah was extradited to the United States pursuant to a
criminal complaint charging two conspiracy counts: (1)
conspiring to import heroin into the United States in
violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952(a) and 963; and (2)
conspiring to sell that heroin in the United States in
violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. ECF
No. 1 (Complaint); ECF No. 91 (Declaration of Benjamin Boamah
("Boamah Decl.")), at ¶ 4. On September 29,
2014, Boamah made his initial appearance before a Magistrate
Judge in the Southern District of New York, together with
Anthony Strazza, counsel assigned to Boamah under the
Criminal Justice Act. ECF No. 9. Strazza served as
Boamah's counsel for the next year, including through
motions in limine and other pre-trial practice,
until shortly after Boamah's guilty plea.
December 2014, Strazza received the Government's first
plea offer. Tr. 19:1-20:17; Gov't Ex. 2 (Email dated Dec.
8, 2014, attaching proposed plea agreement). It stipulated to
a Sentencing Guideline's range of between 57 and 71
months' imprisonment with no mandatory minimum sentence.
Gov't Ex. 2. Strazza testified that he met with Boamah at
the Metropolitan Correctional Facility ("MCC") to
review the plea agreement in person, where they went through
the document "paragraph by paragraph, " including
the three-point reduction for early acceptance of
responsibility. Tr. 21:5-23:14. Boamah rejected the offer and
told Strazza that he "could not accept any plea
deal" because of his professional aspirations in Ghana.
Government renewed this plea offer again in August 2015,
after filing its motions in limine. Tr. 28:9-25;
Gov't Ex. 3 (Email dated Aug. 21, 2015). Strazza
testified that he met with Boamah again to review the
agreement and that Boamah again rejected the offer,
instructing Strazza to file his opposition to the
Government's motions in limine. Tr. 29:1-14.
Boamah recalled that Strazza conveyed a plea offer to him in
August 2015; however, he is mistaken about the chronology and
the terms of the offer. Id. 84:10-18. The Court
credits Strazza's testimony that August 2015 was the
second, not the first, time that he discussed a plea
agreement with Boamah. Further, despite Boamah's
contention that this plea offer provided a sentence of 63 to
78 months with no mandatory minimum, both Strazza and the
Government confirmed that no such offer ever was extended to
Boamah. Compare Id. and Boamah Decl. ¶ 18,
with Tr. 20:18-21:4.
Government extended its final plea offer to Boamah in
September 2015, one week before trial, which was scheduled to
begin on September 29, 2015. Tr. 36:9-38:21; Gov't Ex. 1
(Email dated Sept. 22, 2015, attaching proposed plea
agreement). The proposal first was conveyed orally after a
Court conference on September 21, 2015, and then in writing
the following day. Id. This offer included a
proposed stipulated sentence of 63 to 78 months'
imprisonment with a mandatory minimum of 60 months.
Id. The agreement expired on September 23.
Id. As a result of the timing and difficulties at
the MCC, Strazza only very quickly discussed the basic terms
of the plea offer with Boamah in person on September 22. Tr.
that day Strazza and Boamah communicated again, either by
telephone or email. Id. 40:10-20. By the end of the
day Boamah had not reached a decision regarding his plea, but
Strazza decided to have Boamah brought to court on September
23 in case he decided to plead guilty. Id. On
September 23, Boamah and Strazza discussed the plea agreement
in court prior to the scheduled plea proceeding. Id.
41:4-42:3, 59:15-60:17. At this point, Strazza had a written
copy of the plea agreement to review with Boamah.
advised Boamah to accept the offer because he believed that
"he would ultimately get a better outcome than he would
have if he were to proceed to trial." Id.
41:20-24. Boamah responded that he wanted to plead guilty,
but wanted to do so without the plea agreement, an "open
plea." Id. 41:25-42:5. Strazza "strongly
advised" against pleading guilty without a plea
agreement, explaining that Boamah likely would receive a
higher sentence. Id. 42:10-19, 43:8-22. It seemed to
Strazza that Boamah did not want to waive any rights pursuant
to the plea agreement, including the right to appeal and
resubmit the arguments made in a. pro se motion to
dismiss the Indictment. Id. 42:20-43:5, 45:18-23,
59:6-14. Boamah did not tell Strazza that he needed
additional time to think about whether to plead guilty.
then explained the plea proceeding and the written allocution
to Boamah. Boamah did not have any questions, but stated that
he would not read the written allocution, despite
Strazza's explanation for it. Id. 43:23-45:1,
Boamah's Guilty Plea
September 23, 2015, Boamah entered a plea of guilty to both
counts in the Indictment and without a plea agreement from
the Government. ECF No. 59 ("Plea Tr."). During the
plea proceeding, after Boamah stated that he was not in the
"right state of mind, " the Court engaged in a
lengthy colloquy with Boamah regarding the voluntariness of
his guilty plea. Plea Tr. 4:17-18. During this colloquy, it
became clear that Boamah was competent to plead guilty, but
was experiencing a normal amount of stress attendant to this
important decision. Id. 4:20-7:21. In response to
the Court's questions, Boamah confirmed that he
understood what was happening in the plea proceeding,
id. 6:22-25; had come to the decision to plead
guilty himself, id. 7:1-3; and had discussed the
decision to plead guilty with Strazza and understood his
counsel's advice, id. 7:13-18. Boamah later
confirmed that, notwithstanding his nerves, he understood the
questions the Court put to him during his plea hearing and
answered those questions truthfully. Tr. 137:13-139:9,
parties then discussed sentencing. Boamah stated that he had
seen the Government's latest plea offer, a fact which he
later confirmed again, Plea Tr. 17:18-22; Tr. 143:2-6, and
that he had discussed with Strazza how the Sentencing
Guidelines would apply to his case, Plea Tr. 15:25-16:17. The
Government explained its revised estimate of Boamah's
sentence if he chose to plead without the plea agreement.
Id. 18:1-25. Consistent with Rule 11, the Court also
explained sentencing and the other potential penalties and
collateral consequences of pleading guilty, all of which
Boamah confirmed he understood. Id. 19:12-22:5. The
Court further confirmed that Boamah understood the rights he
was preserving and waiving by pleading guilty. Id.
23:1-25. Boamah again stated that he told Strazza he wanted
an "open plea." Id. 23:4-5.
the Court asked Boamah whether he had any questions for
either the Court or his counsel before proceeding to the
guilty plea allocution itself. Boamah stated that he had no
questions and declined to consult with Strazza before
allocuting to the crimes. Id. 22:6-11. He further
stated that he was satisfied with Strazza's
representation. Id. 22:12-14.
then began his allocution. When asked by the Court what he
had done that made him guilty of the charged crimes, Boamah
stated that he "assisted a friend who came to
Ghana" by "vouch[ing] for him" and
"help[ing] him to get money for whatever he did with
it." Id. 24:4-18. After a break requested by
Strazza, Boamah began reading from the written allocution
prepared by Strazza. Id. 24:19-26:14. The Court
accepted Boamah's guilty plea and set a date for
sentencing. Id. 27:2-6.
did not express any dissatisfaction with Strazza's
representation prior to the end of their relationship.
However, Strazza acknowledged that they were becoming
"further apart" in terms of strategy after the
Government filed its motions in limine which, as
Strazza explained, "introduced new evidence into the
case." Tr. 12:7-17, 14:7-16, 66:15-67:4. Boamah
requested new counsel during a meeting with Strazza on
October 14, 2015, and, on October 21, 2015, Strazza submitted
a letter ...