In another twist in a case that has captured national attention, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford Means on Monday allowed a West Philadelphia man to withdraw his guilty plea in the shooting of a beer deli owner with an AK-47 rifle last year because federal authorities subsequently charged him with the same offense.
Jovaun Patterson’s sentence in the shooting of Mike Poeng was criticized by many in the law enforcement community as lenient after Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office gave Patterson a plea deal of 3½ to 10 years in state prison in November 2018. Also, the District Attorney’s Office failed to notify the victim of the plea and sentencing hearing, a violation of the state Crime Victims Act.
U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain has said the case is one in which the Krasner administration gave a “sweetheart deal for a violent defendant.” On Feb. 28, citing concern for public safety, McSwain announced that federal prosecutors were indicting Patterson on federal charges of Hobbs Act robbery and with carrying and using a firearm in a crime of violence in the shooting of Poeng.
After learning that Patterson would be charged by federal authorities, Patterson’s attorney, S. Philip Steinberg, sought to have his client’s plea deal and sentence vacated.
In April, Means denied a defense request to vacate the plea deal and sentence, but raised concerns about double jeopardy from local and federal charges.
Steinberg renewed his request in a June 17 motion after the U.S. Supreme Court in Gamble v. U.S. upheld the dual-sovereignty doctrine, which says the federal and state governments are separate “sovereigns” and each may prosecute a person for the same act without violating the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy.
Steinberg argued in his motion that Patterson’s plea “was not knowingly or intelligently made because it was impossible for [Patterson] to forecast [the Gamble decision] nor his placement within crosshairs of a political war of attrition between the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office.”
In court Monday, Steinberg said of Patterson: “Why should this person be punished twice for the exact same offense?”
On Monday, Means reversed course from his April ruling, this time granting Steinberg’s motion for Patterson to withdraw his guilty plea.
“This was a negotiated plea,” Means said in court while asking if Patterson would have pleaded if he had known he would have been charged federally.
Means reasoned that Patterson couldn’t have known that the federal government would step in. He also warned of a “slippery slope” if the U.S. charges someone already sentenced in a city court for the same offense.
“It derails our whole system of plea bargaining if there is no finality,” Means said.
Assistant District Attorney Lori Edelman Orem argued that Means no longer had jurisdiction to rule in Patterson’s case. She declined to comment afterward.
Jane Roh, Krasner’s spokesperson, said by email that the District Attorney’s Office would appeal Means’ ruling.
Patterson, 30, is in custody at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center awaiting a Sept. 5 trial on his federal charges and was not at Monday’s hearing.
Poeng was not at the hearing, but his brother Sam was present with an attorney, Tom Malone, who has been helping the family.
After the hearing, Sam Poeng, 58, said that he was shocked by Means’ ruling.
“The whole entire time, the court not even once mentioned my brother by name,” Sam Poeng said, adding that his brother is “going to suffer the rest of his life,” including “financially and mentally.”
“The system failed the victim,” Sam Poeng said.
Armed with an AK-47, Patterson shot Mike Poeng, then 50, in his groin about 1:30 p.m. May 5, 2018, while Poeng was washing his car outside his then-KCJ Inc. beer deli at 54th and Spruce Streets, during an attempted robbery. After the shooting, Patterson fled toward his home on the 5400 block of Delancey Street.
After media criticism of the Nov. 15 plea deal, the District Attorney’s Office tried to vacate the deal in a December motion, but Means at the time said he couldn’t undo a deal that the District Attorney’s Office had negotiated.
In May, during a Capitol Hill ceremony for fallen police officers, President Donald Trump criticized Krasner’s office’s handling of the Patterson case, saying local prosecutors don’t go after “criminals who pose a severe threat to public safety and community well-being.”