Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Appeal Waiver Doesn't Prevent Challenge to Factual Basis of Plea

US v. McCoy: McCoy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute drugs. As part of a plea agreement he waived his right to appeal his conviction or sentence, aside from issues related to ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. There was some confusion on the amount of drugs involved, with the AUSA stating a lower amount at the plea hearing than called for in the agreement (or ultimately calculated in the PSR). McCoy was ultimately sentenced to 292 months in prison.

In spite of the waiver, McCoy appealed, arguing that there was an insufficient factual basis for the plea and that the district court miscalculated the advisory Guideline range. The Government moved to dismiss. The Fourth Circuit ultimately affirmed. It first concluded that the miscommunication about the drug amounts did not render the appeal waiver unknowing or involuntary. Because the waiver was valid, the court granted the Government’s motion with regard to the sentencing issue. On the plea basis issue, however, the court found that the appeal waiver did not apply. That was because a defendant challenging a factual basis for a plea “raises the possibility that his decision to plead guilty is the product of coercion or misunderstanding” and was “not the result of a knowing and voluntary decision.” As a result, “ even valid appeal waivers do not bar claims that a factual basis is insufficient to support a guilty plea.” It did McCoy little good, however, as the court ultimately concluded that the factual basis was sufficient to support his guilty plea.

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