CHARLESTON – A federal judge wants the new U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia to review an “unusual” number of judicial decisions in recent years that found evidence was unlawfully seized and unusable at trial.
In a February 22 memorandum opinion and order in a drug case, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin was critical of the conduct of law enforcement and prosecutors after he found a search violated the defendant’s rights. Goodwin also asked U.S. Attorney William Thompson to review recent suppression rulings, which he called an “area of concern.”
“I have an obligation to say more about the roles we each play in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Goodwin wrote. “The oaths of office taken by police officers, prosecutors, lawyers and judges each have the central premise to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It is the common bond necessary to bind together this participatory democracy.
U.S. Attorney William Thompson
“Neither the police, the prosecutor nor the judge may cast the personal burdens imposed by their oaths of office upon one of the others.”
When writing specifically about prosecutors, Goodwin says they “should analyze whether the evidence was gathered constitutionally and not focus solely on the question of the likelihood of admissibility.”
In December, Goodwin issued an order suppressing evidence seized from a house earlier in the year. He also questions the accuracy of comments made by law enforcement in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant of the defendant’s house. Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s office has filed a new indictment.
Goodwin writes about an audio recording of a controlled delivery attempt that he says is “clearly damning” to Detective Wesley Daniels.
“The Assistant United States Attorneys should have learned there were glaring problems with important evidence in this case when they presumably talked with Det. Daniels in preparation for the suppression hearing,” Goodwin wrote. “Instead, the Assistant United States Attorneys did not either recognize or address the problems with the warrant until Det. Daniels’s testimony at the hearing, after which they nevertheless filed briefing arguing that the term ‘delivered’ could fairly describe a situation where no delivery occurred. …
“It is surely apparent to the government that their concern with the damage to Det. Daniels’s career would have been alleviated had these actions been taken when they first learned of the evidentiary problems.”
Goodwin also wrote about an event he called “unique to me in my half-century as a lawyer and as a judge.”
“The Assistant United States Attorney sent two investigators to interview the state magistrate judge who issued the search warrant … Those investigators questioned the magistrate judge regarding his judicial decision-making process, then wrote that process down in a memorandum that the government filed as an exhibit to this motion.”
Goodwin called the decision to interview the magistrate and the magistrate’s decision to be interviewed both are improper.
‘It is inherently intimidating to send federal officers to question a state magistrate judge, and it is clearly out of bounds for the magistrate judge to provide the interview regarding his judicial decision-making in a matter pending before this court,” Goodwin wrote. “There are other serious concerns brought to light in the report of the magistrate judge’s interview … I will leave those to the West Virginia Office of Judiciary Disciplinary Counsel and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”
Goodwin says he’s aware of the “unusual number of suppression motions” that have been granted in the Southern District in the past two years.
“I defer to the new United States Attorney to review this area of concern,” Goodwin wrote.
Goodwin rejected the U.S. Attorney’s request to rescind an earlier ruling that Daniels made statements “in reckless disregard of the truth.”
Deanna Eder, public affairs officer for Thompson, declined to comment in the pending case. But she did issue a statement to The West Virginia Record about Goodwin’s concerns.
“Upon taking office on October 13, 2021, U.S. Attorney Will Thompson began a thorough review of all of his office’s policies and procedures to determine what, if any, changes were needed,” Eder told The Record. “The United States Attorney served as a state circuit court judge for almost 15 years prior to his role as U.S. Attorney and brings that experience analyzing constitutional and suppression issues to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“As a result of his review of policies and procedures, and prior to the order in the Lark case, U.S. Attorney Thompson implemented a new process for reviewing search warrant applications. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has reviewed the court’s order in the Lark matter and takes the Court’s concerns seriously.”
Goodwin was appointed to the federal bench in 1995 by President Bill Clinton.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number 2:21-cr-00084