US v. Warner: Warner pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. In the plea agreement, the parties agreed that the 4-level Guideline enhancement for use of a firearm in connection with another felony offense did not apply because the conviction at issue - a North Carolina breaking and entering conviction - was not a felony. However, the agreement also stated that the Government "will inform the Court and the probation office of all face pertinent to the sentencing process and will present any evidence requested by the Court." The PSR recommended that the enhancement applied. Warner objected. The Government, on the other hand, noted the agreement with Warner, but then explained (at some length) how its analysis had changed in light of newer Fourth Circuit case law. Nonetheless, it asked that the district court "honor the agreement of the parties." Warner argued that the Government breeched. The district court disagreed, applied the enhancement, and sentenced Warner to 48 months in prison, just below the bottom of the resulting Guideline range.
The Fourth Circuit vacated Warner's sentence and remanded for resentencing before a different judge. The court concluded that the Government did breech the plea agreement, even though it was acting in good faith. The court distinguished between the Government merely representing its position (which it did) and actually recommending that the enhancement not apply (which is promised to do). The former is a "mere recommendation," advice that the district court was free to reject. The latter would have made the district court more hesitant to apply the enhancement. Furthermore, there was a difference between recommending that the enhancement shouldn't apply versus arguing that it should not apply.
Congrats to the Defender office in the Western District of NC on the win!