Wednesday, February 17, 2016

No Appeal Waive Escape Hatch After Departure

US v. McLaughlin: McLaughlin pleaded guilty to bank fraud. Her plea agreement included the following provision (sing along if you know the words!), in which she agreed:

In addition, at the plea hearing the district court asked if McLaughlin understood "you reserve only the right to appeal from an upward departure from the advisory guideline range established at sentencing and that you otherwise waive all rights to appeal whatever sentence is imposed?" McLaughlin said she understood. At sentencing, the district court applied a four-level enhancement for role in the offense, producing a Guideline range of 15 to 21 months. The district court then departed due to the under representation of McLaughlin's criminal history and imposed a sentence of 27 months.

The Fourth Circuit dismissed McLaughlin's appeal, in which she challenged the four-level enhancement, but not the upward departure. McLaughlin argued that she retained her right to appeal any part of the sentence because the sentence was "in excess of the applicable advisory Guideline range that is established at sentencing." The court disagreed, however, holding that the broader clause of the waiver - covering "whatever sentence is imposed on any ground, including any issues [relating] to the establishment of the advisory Guideline range" - controlled. If not, the exception clause on which McLaughlin relied would swallow the broader provision. Relying on contractual interpretation tools, the court "decline[d] McLaughlin's invitation to reduce much of her waiver to mere surplusage." The court also found that there was no ambiguity in the waiver (which would then be construed against the Government) simply because McLaughlin and the Government read the provision in different ways.

No comments: