U.S. v. Williams (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-023-16, 11 pp.) (Wynn, J.) No. 14-4680, Jan. 28, 2016; USDC at Florence, S.C. (Harwell, J.) 4th Cir.
Holding: A defendant who pleaded guilty to cocaine conspiracy and was sentenced to 120 months in prison pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) stipulated plea agreement may not have her sentence reviewed on appeal because her plea agreement did not expressly rely on the federal sentencing guidelines to calculate the agreed-upon sentence; the 4th Circuit affirms her conviction and dismisses defendant’s appeal of her sentence.
David J. Williams III and Kristin D. Williams were convicted and sentenced for cocaine conspiracy pursuant to stipulated plea agreements under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(1)(C). Both defendants appeal from their convictions, and K. Williams also appeals her sentence.
When, as here, a defendant fails to move in the district court to withdraw a guilty plea, any error in the hearing under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 is reviewed only for plain error. Here, we conclude the district court fully complied with Rule 11’s requirements before accepting both defendants’ guilty pleas. We reject this challenge.
Defendant K. Williams also questions whether her sentence was reasonable. Not all sentences are subject to appellate review. A defendant who is sentenced pursuant to a stipulated plea agreement may not file a notice of appeal under paragraph 3 or 4 of 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a) unless the sentence imposed is greater than the sentence set forth in the agreement.
Here, the sentence imposed was not greater than the sentence set forth in the plea agreement, since the sentence – 120 months – was exactly what defendant stipulated to. Nor can paragraph 1 of § 3742(a) provide a basis for appeal, since the sentence was not “imposed in violation of law.” Indeed, the imposed sentence was the mandatory minimum sentence for the relevant crime.
Finally, the sentence was not imposed as a result of an incorrect application of the sentencing guidelines, under § 3742(a)(2). In numerous unpublished opinions, this court has suggested that any sentence imposed pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement is not imposed as a result of an incorrect application of the sentencing guidelines because it is based on the parties’ agreement – not on the district court’s calculation of the guidelines.
Some of our sister circuits have similarly indicated that a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) sentence is based not on the guidelines but on the plea agreement itself, and therefore generally not reviewable. Others, by contrast, have stated that a defendant may still appeal a sentence imposed pursuant to a stipulated plea when the sentence results from an incorrect application of the guidelines.
We believe this issue should be considered in light of Freeman v. U.S., 131 S. Ct. 2685 (2011), in which the Supreme Court held that in some circumstances a stipulated plea can be “based on” the guidelines. The Supreme Court held that an exception exists where the agreement expressly uses a guidelines sentencing range applicable to the charged offense to establish the prison term. Applying Freeman’s rule in U.S. v. Brown, 653 F.3d 337 (4th Cir. 2011), we concluded the district court lacked jurisdiction to reduce the sentence at issue, where the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement did not expressly use a guidelines sentencing range to establish the prison term.
We clarify that a sentence imposed pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement may be reviewed, but only where that agreement expressly uses a guidelines sentencing range applicable to the charged offense to establish the prison term. The rule we articulate today allows for at least some stipulated plea sentences to be appealed under § 3742(a)(2).
None of this helps the defendant here, however, because her plea agreement did not expressly rely on the guidelines to calculate the agreed-upon sentence.
Affirmed in part, dismissed in part.