Monday, March 04, 2013

Waiver Precludes Review of Erroneous Guideline Calculations

US v. Copeland: Copeland pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of more than five grams of crack cocaine.  As part of his guilty plea, Copeland waived his right to appeal any sentence within or below the advisory Guideline range calculated at sentencing (the Government waived nothing).  Prior to sentencing, Copeland was designated as a career offender based on (among others) two prior North Carolina convictions and his advisory Guideline range calculated as 188 to 235 months.  One of those convictions also served to increase Copeland's statutory range from five-to-40 years up to 10-to-life.  Sentencing occurred while Simmons was awaiting rehearing in the Fourth Circuit and Copeland maintained an objection to the use of the North Carolina priors in determining his sentence.  The district court imposed a sentence of 216 months and announced that, even if there were any problems in calculating the Guideline range, it would have imposed the same sentence anyway.

Copeland filed an appeal, challenging his classification as a career offender, the length of his sentence, and the district court's failure to continue his sentencing.  The Government invoked the waiver in the plea agreement and moved to dismiss Copeland's appeal.  As to the career offender and substantive reasonableness of the sentence, the court granted the motion to dismiss.  Finding the waiver valid, the court concluded that the Guideline calculations were at the heart of it, even though the eventual outcome in Simmons shows them to have been wrong (an error which the Government admitted).  A future change in the law does not render an otherwise valid waiver invalid.  Furthermore, the sentence was not substantively "illegal" and therefore outside the scope of the waiver.  As to the continuance, the court found the district court did not abuse its discretion.

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