Friday, December 02, 2005

Appeal waiver in guilty plea upheld on appeal of unsuccessful motion to withdraw plea

The Third Circuit, in US v. Wilson, upheld an appeal waiver in a guilty plea agreement, where the defendant had filed an unsuccessful motion to withdraw the plea in the district court.
Wilson was indicted for numerous drug offenses. He later pled guilty to two drug charges. His plea agreement included an appeal waiver that waived the opportunity for appeals or habeas relief regarding his sentence, including claims arising under Blakely. Three weeks after his plea, Wilson filed a motion to withdraw the appeal, but the district court denied his motion and ultimately sentenced him to two consecutive sentences of 34 months.

Wilson appeals, raising three claims. First, he claims that his rights under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers ("IAD") were violated because he was shuttled between MD and PA before the charges against him were adjudicated; this claim includes an ineffective assistance claim due to his counsel’s failure to pursue the claim in the district court. Second, Wilson appeals the district court’s denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Third, Wilson argues that he is not bound by the appeal waiver in the plea agreement.

The Third Circuit, citing United States v. Khattak, 273 F.3d 557 (3d Cir. 2001), noted its rule that a knowing and voluntary appeal waiver is enforceable if it does not "work a miscarriage of justice." The Court then stated that it would be a miscarriage of justice for the district court to enforce a plea agreement that Wilson should have been permitted to withdraw. Therefore, the Court reviewed the district court’s denial of Wilson’s motion, under an abuse of discretion standard.

The Court first noted that withdrawal of a guilty plea is "not an absolute right." Then, the Court listed three factors to evaluate in a motion to withdraw: (1) whether the defendant asserts innocence; (2) the strength of the defendant’s reasons to withdraw; and (3) whether the government would be prejudiced.

In review, Wilson did assert his innocence, but offered no facts to support it. The defendant cited coercion as a reason to withdraw, but again offered no valid support. Moreover, the Court decided that the package plea deal that Wilson entered was a permissible one. The Court, in upholding the guilty plea, determined that it need not reach the third factor in reviewing Wilson’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Likewise, because the Court ruled that Wilson’s appeal waiver was valid and enforceable under Khattak, it found that it lacked jurisdiction to hear his appeal and did not reach his IAD claim.

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