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United States v. Wilke

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

January 8, 2020




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Justin Andrew Wilke's (“Wilke”) motion to continue trial currently set for January 14, 2020. Dkt. 75. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby grants the motion for the reasons stated herein.


         On August 28, 2019, Wilke was charged by indictment with eight counts relating to his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to unlawfully remove and sell valuable maple trees obtained in the Olympic National Forest between April and August 2018. Dkt. 1. One of those charges, using fire in furtherance of a felony (count eight), carries a mandatory 10-year sentence. Id.

         Wilke's original trial date was December 3, 2019. In November 2019, the Government moved to continue trial in anticipation of the transfer of Wilke's co-defendant, Shawn Williams (“Williams”) into federal custody. The Court continued Wilke's trial to December 5, 2019 over Wilke's objection. Dkt. 20.

         The Court set Williams's trial for January 14, 2020. The Government then filed a motion to continue Wilke's trial to the same date. Dkt. 26. Wilke initially indicated he would oppose the motion, but on the day his response was due, he withdrew his opposition. Dkt. 39. Accordingly, the Court granted the motion and set Wilke's case for trial with Williams's case on January 14, 2020. Dkt. 45.

         On December 18, 2019, the grand jury returned a second superseding indictment that made no changes to Wilke's charges but added charges against Williams. Dkt. 51. On December 27, 2019, Williams entered into a plea agreement and pled guilty to two of those charges. Dkts. 62, 63. In the statement of facts within his plea agreement, Williams admitted that a member of a group consisting of Williams, Wilke, and uncharged co-conspirator/witness Lucas Chapman (“Chapman”) started a large forest fire known as the “Maple Fire” while attempting to fell a tree containing a bee's nest as part of the tree poaching operation. Dkt. 62, ¶ 8(i)-(j). Williams did not enter into a formal cooperation agreement with the Government or agree to testify against Wilke as part of his plea agreement. Williams's sentencing date is March 23, 2020.

         Pursuant to recent changes in the local criminal rules, the Government filed its trial materials fourteen days in advance of Wilke's trial, on December 31, 2019. Dkts. 68-72.

         On January 3, 2020, the day Wilke's trial materials were due, he filed a motion to continue trial. Dkt. 75. On January 5, 2020, the Government responded. Dkt. 80.

         On January 6, 2020, the Court held a pretrial conference. Dkt. 83. At the pretrial conference, the Court issued a preliminary ruling indicating it anticipated denying the motion to continue because Wilke had failed to establish that a continuance was needed, and the Government had provided sufficient information that a continuance would prejudice it. However, the Court indicated it would accept Wilke's reply to the motion before issuing a final written ruling.

         On January 7, 2020, Wilke replied. Dkt. 85. Also on January 7, 2020, the Government filed a status report updating the Court on evidentiary issues and representations made by Wilke's counsel at the pretrial conference. Dkt. 86.


         Wilke's posture has been to proceed to trial throughout this case. However, his counsel now asserts that the Government has disclosed voluminous discovery since mid-December, and that a pre-planned vacation of his defense investigator and foreseeable scheduling conflicts of co-counsel prevent him from adequately following up on this discovery in advance of trial. Counsel further asserts that his inability to review and investigate potential exculpatory information presented by this discovery will prevent him from functioning competently as required by the Sixth Amendment at trial. In response, the Government demonstrates a great deal of prejudice to its case supporting the denial of the motion. Nevertheless, the Court concludes that on balance the relevant factors weigh in favor of continuing trial. Therefore, the Court grants the motion.

         A. ...

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