Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Government Bound By Promises In Plea Agreement In Face of Changed Facts

USv. Edgell: Edgell pleaded guilty to being a drug user in possession of a firearm and distributing methamphetamine. As part of a plea agreement, the parties stipulated that the conduct involved “less than five (5) grams of substances containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine.” The advisory Guideline range contemplated by the parties was 10 to 16 months in prison and the Government agreed to argue for the “lowest end of the applicable guideline range.” Prior to sentencing, however, the Government received lab tests showing that the methamphetamine involved was actually pure and provided that information to the probation officer and the court. As a result, Edgell’s Guideline range went up to 30 to 37 months. At sentencing the Government argued for a 30-month sentence, which the district court imposed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit vacated Edgell’s sentence based on the Government’s breach of the plea agreement. Edgell argued there were two breaches. The first was when the Government provided the lab results to the probation officer and district court. The court found this was not a breach, as the Government always has a duty to assure that the district court has the fullest, accurate information at sentencing and, at any rate, the specific language of the plea agreement allowed such disclosures. However, the court agreed with Edgell’s second alleged breach, holding that the Government was required to adhere to its promise to argue for no greater than a 10-month sentence based on the stipulation to which it agreed. The court ordered the case remanded to the district court for resentencing before a different judge.

Congrats to the Defender office in NDWV on the win!

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