Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Appeal Waiver in Sentencing Agreement Enforceable

The Fifth Circuit joined its sister circuits in holding that “waivers in sentencing agreements are enforceable just as waivers in plea agreements are enforceable.” 

In this case, the Government filed a sentencing enhancement notice under 21 U.S.C. § 851(a) for Walters’ two prior felony drug convictions.  As a result, Walters was exposed to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.  After the jury found Walters guilty of conspiracy and substantive drug offenses as well as unlawful use of communications, Walters filed motions for a new trial and to arrest judgment.  Walters subsequently entered into a sentencing agreement with the Government in which he agreed to withdraw the pending motions and waive his right to appeal the conviction and sentence in exchange for the Government’s dismissal of the § 851(a) sentencing enhancement.  As a result, he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years in prison to which he was sentenced.

Walters sought to challenge the participation of alternate jurors in jury deliberations on appeal, but the panel held that his appeal waiver was knowing and voluntary even though the district court did not address the waiver in open court at sentencing, noting that the requirement that the district court discuss an appeal waiver before accepting a guilty plea does not apply to a post-verdict agreement such as Walters’.  The panel concluded:

As a result of the sentencing agreement, Walters voluntarily chose the guarantee that he would not face a mandatory life term in prison over the uncertainty of pursuing an appeal.  He may not now avoid the consequences of his agreement after having received the benefit of his bargain.



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