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United States v. Walton

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

June 27, 2018

LAURA L. WALTON, Defendant.



         On November 7, 2017, the grand jury returned a ten-count indictment charging Deon Batton and Laura Walton with five counts of Hobbs Act robbery and five counts of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a Hobbs Act Robbery. Dkt. No. 11. On two days in October 2017, the two committed armed robberies of a Subway sandwich store, a Taco Bell, a GameStop store, another Subway, and a Cousins Subs. The first two robberies took place on October 9, 2017; the last three took place on October 11, 2017. Id. Laura Walton was the gunman in the first robbery; both defendants were armed in the second one; both were armed in the third; Deon Batton actually discharged a firearm during the fourth robbery, and the government alleges that Laura Walton kicked one of the victims (Walton does not remember this); both defendants were armed in the final robbery. Dkt. No. 33 at 16-19. After her arrest, Walton confessed to the robberies. She told law enforcement that she committed the robberies because she needed money. She selected restaurants as targets because she had worked at restaurants, and knew how they operated. They had robbed the GameStop on October 11 only because a nearby Pizza Hut had been too crowded. Walton admitted to being armed at each robbery. Batton told law enforcement that the robberies were Walton's idea. Id. at 19-20.

         Walton first appeared in federal court on October 27, 2017. Dkt. No. 4. Pretrial services prepared a bond study for that hearing. Dkt. No. 3. It noted that Walton had a good relationship with her parents, and that if released, she could live with her mother, Jarnell Walton. Walton did not have a passport. At the time of her arrest, Walton had been working anywhere from twenty-six to sixty hours a week at Mitchell Manor, an assisted living and nursing facility in West Allis, making $13 an hour. It also appeared that she was receiving food stamps. Pretrial services reported that Walton had a two-year-old son, whose father was not involved in their lives on a consistent basis.

         The bond study showed that, at the age of twenty-six, Walton had no prior criminal history; all of her encounters with law enforcement involved traffic violations. She reported no mental health problems, stated that she'd used marijuana only once in her life, and drank only socially. The only issues of note reported by pretrial services were medical ones: Walton reported suffering from asthma, migraines, and arthritis and a herniated disk in her back which caused her pain. She had a prescription for Imitrex for the headaches and an opioid pain killer for her back.

         The study noted one other thing: that Walton's mother had reported to the pretrial services officer that Walton “may have” abused opiates by taking Oxycodone and Percocet that hadn't been prescribed to her.

         Magistrate Judge Joseph considered all of this (as well as information she learned at the hearing, such as the fact that Walton is a high school graduate). Dkt. No. 4. According to the minutes of the detention hearing, however, Judge Joseph ordered Walton detained, because she had been involved in five armed robberies where loaded firearms had been brandished, and had admitted that fact after her arrest. Id.

         On December 29, 2017-about two months later-Walton's counsel asked Judge Joseph to reopen the detention hearing. Dkt. No. 19. He told the court that Walton's mother, Jarnell, was willing to act as Walton's third-party custodian. Id. at 2. He explained that Walton had been free of opiates for more than seventy-five days, which meant that she was ready to start drug treatment. Id. at 3. He noted that Walton would not have any association with Deon Batton, and that his review of the discovery did not support the government's assertion that Walton had instigated the robberies. Id.

         Counsel particularly emphasized Walton's health issues. He explained that Walton already had had procedures to relieve the pain in her back, and that she needed another procedure-“radio frequency ablation”-to deaden the pain nerve root. Id. at 3. Counsel argued that because this treatment would relieve Walton's pain in the long term, it could help “to reduce the need for opioid-based pain medication to which Laura became addicted.” Id. Counsel also mentioned Walton's asthma, migraines and-not mentioned in the bond study-sickle cell disease. Id. Counsel stated that at the time Walton was arrested, she “had been abusing opioids for a long time, ” but that since being in custody, she had been attending AA meetings at the Dodge County Detention Facility. Id. at 4. Counsel also argued that Walton had displayed symptoms of mental health issues, and was willing to submit to a mental health evaluation. Id.

         Finally, counsel explained that Walton needed to make arrangements for her three-year-old son-legal options for custody-as well as helping him manage his trauma over the likely looming federal sentence. Id. For all of these reasons, counsel argued that Walton had great incentive to comply with any conditions of release. Id. at 4-5.

         In its response, the government reiterated the serious, violent and aggressive nature of the robberies, and Walton's role in them. Dkt. No. 20. The government also pointed out that Walton had been living with her mother-the person who now was willing to be her third-party custodian-at the time she'd committed these crimes; that fact had not prevented her from committing the robberies. Id.

         Judge Joseph denied Walton's request for release. Dkt. No. 23. She concluded that Walton's motion presented sufficient facts to rebut the presumption of detention raised by 18 U.S.C. §3142(e), and the fact that Walton was charged with committing crimes of violence. Id. at 3. But Judge Joseph noted that the question of whether Walton had rebutted the §3142(e) presumption was only one of several factors a court must weigh in deciding whether a defendant posed a risk of flight or a danger to the community. Looking at all of the factors a court must consider under 18 U.S.C. §3142(g), Judge Joseph concluded that the government had met its burden of persuasion to show that there was no condition or combination of conditions that would assure that Walton was not a danger to the community. Id. at 4.

         Recounting the serious and violent nature of the charges, Judge Joseph explained that she found it “particularly relevant to the assessment of future dangerousness . . . that these five armed robberies were allegedly committed over a mere three day time span.” Id. Judge Joseph acknowledged Walton's “admirable” history of juggling work, school and family responsibilities, but found that “her alleged crime spree suggests unpredictability, a lack of control, or impulsiveness which would pose a serious risk of future danger to the community.” Id. Judge Joseph agreed that Walton's desire to obtain medical treatment, to seek drug and mental health treatment, to make arrangements for her son and to prepare him for her possible incarceration was “valid and sympathetic, ” but concluded that it did not “overcome the finding that Walton's alleged crime spree suggests a serious risk of danger to the community.” Id.

         After a change of counsel (not related to Walton), this court scheduled a status conference for June 7, 2018. Dkt. No. 32. At that status conference, defense counsel reported that the defendant had signed a plea agreement. The court scheduled a change of plea hearing for June 22, 2018. Id. The parties filed a plea agreement on June 18, 2018, which provided for Walton to plead guilty to the five robbery counts and the final §924(c) count. Dkt. No. 33. Under the indictment, Walton had faced a 107-year mandatory minimum-seven years on the first §924(c) count, and a consecutive twenty-five year sentence on each of the following four §924(c) counts. The plea agreement reduced her mandatory minimum exposure to seven years. Walton appeared before this court, and entered her guilty plea in accordance with the plea agreement, on June 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 37. The court scheduled the sentencing hearing for September 26, 2018-three months from now.

         Later on the day of the guilty plea, Walton's current counsel filed this motion to reopen the detention determination, asking the court to release Walton pending the September 26, 2018 sentencing hearing. Dkt. No. 34. Counsel assured the court that she did not "make this motion lightly or casually, ” and that she was doing so “only because of the unique condition of Ms. Walton." Id. at 2. Counsel listed four reasons that Walton was seeking release pending sentencing: (1) To complete health procedures she had been undergoing at the time of her arrest; (2) to obtain drug counseling before she is incarcerated; (3) to provide respite for her mother, who had to assume the care of Walton's ...

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