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Category: Guilty Plea

An Empty Bargain: Circuit Overturns Guilty Plea Entered By Defendant Unapprised of Mandatory Life Sentence

In a decision dated March 10, 2017, the Circuit issued a blistering decision vacating the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea in United States v. Johnson, No. 15-3498-cr (Jacobs, J., joined by Judges Cabranes and Parker), holding that the defendant’s plea to offenses requiring a mandatory life sentence was not made knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently.  Readers squeamish of benchslaps are advised to stop reading here: the panel called out the defendant’s asleep-at-the-wheel trial counsel by name no fewer than a dozen times, and chided the “robotic” prosecutor for delivering a prolix recitation of the sentence facing the defendant during plea allocation.  But the panel saved its strongest admonishment for the district court judge, whom it believed so incapable of handling the proceedings fairly and competently on remand that it directed the case to be reassigned.  In the end, only the defendant – a repeat offender facing felony drug trafficking charges – emerged from the opinion unscathed.


Court Affirms Filing of Section 851 Prior Felony Information

In United States v. Strong, No. 15-2992, the Court (Kearse, Lohier, and Droney) affirmed Strong’s conviction in a brief, per curiam opinion.  Strong was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine base and heroin.  The government filed a 21 U.S.C. § 851 prior felony information that doubled the applicable mandatory minimum from 60 months to 120 months.  Strong did not object to the filing of the prior felony information.  He pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and admitted the fact of his prior state felony conviction. 


Sanford v. United States

The Court in Sanford v. United States, 16-1840 (Katzmann, Wesley, Hall) yesterday dismissed Petitioner Elijah Sanford’s motion for leave to file a successive § 2255 motion to challenge his sentence, concluding that Sanford’s challenge was precluded by an enforceable collateral attack waiver, knowingly and voluntarily made, in his plea agreement.


Above-Guidelines Sentences for Prostitution Ring Upheld, Including Where Portions of Rule 11 Transcript Missing

In United States v. Jiamez-Dolores, et al., 14-1840(L) (August 3, 2016) (Hall, Lynch, Chin), the Court in a per curiam order affirmed above-guidelines sentences given to two defendants who each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for their participation in a sex-trafficking enterprise.  Both defendants appealed the reasonableness of their sentences.  One defendant also challenged his sentence based on an incomplete transcript from his plea and sentencing hearing.


Second Circuit Demonstrates the Difficulties in Withdrawing a Guilty Plea and Challenging a Below-Guidelines Sentence

In United States v. Rivernider, 13-4865, the Court (Livingston, J., Lynch, J. and Rakoff, D.J., sitting by designation) affirmed the judgment entered by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Chatigny, J.) against two defendants, Robert Rivernider and Robert Ponte.  The defendants pled guilty and were sentenced for multiple counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and tax evasion stemming from a Ponzi scheme and real estate scheme the two ran together.


Where The Full Record Indicates a Plea is Voluntary, Rule 11 Omissions Will Not Lead to Vacatur

In United States v. Pattee, 14-32163-cr (April 21, 2016) (GC, GEL, RJL), the Court affirmed a judgment of conviction and sentence entered in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Frank P. Geraci, Jr., C.J.).  The Defendant was charged in a 13-count Indictment for producing, distributing, and possession of child pornography.  After losing a motion to suppress, the defendant pleaded guilty to all 13-counts and was sentenced to a 47-year term of incarceration.