Tuesday, February 19, 2013

General appellate waiver does not bar appeal of subsequent modification of terms of supervised release

Deciding a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit, in United States v. Wilson, Docket No. 12-1881 (3d Cir. Feb. 14, 2013), ruled that a defendant's broad, general waiver of appellate rights encompassed only his original sentence, not the subsequent modification of the terms of his supervised release.

Wilson pled guilty to two federal drug charges. His plea agreement contained a waiver of his right to appeal or collaterally challenge his conviction and sentence. After sentencing, Wilson filed a Notice of Appeal, but the Third Circuit enforced the waiver and affirmed his conviction and sentence. Wilson was eventually released from prison and began serving a six year term of supervised release. About three months into his term, his Probation Officer filed an application to modify the terms of Wilson's supervised release to include participation in a mental health program as an additional condition. The district court agreed to the requested modification and ordered Wilson to undergo a mental health assessment and, if necessary, to participate in an approved mental health treatment program.

Wilson appealed. The government moved to dismiss the appeal on the basis of the appellate waiver, arguing that the word "sentence" in Wilson's appellate waiver encompassed any challenge to the terms and conditions of that sentence, including subsequent modifications of the terms of his supervised release. The Third Circuit rejected this argument and adopted the reasoning of several other Circuits holding that a general waiver of appellate rights with respect the original sentence does not foreclose a challenge to a post-sentencing order modifying the terms and conditions of the original sentence. The Court found that, while Wilson's appellate waiver could reasonably be understood to encompass a waiver of  his right to appeal the "sentence" imposed at sentencing and memorialized in the judgment and commitment order, it did not waive a right to appeal a later modification of his "sentence."

After concluding that Wilson's appeal was not barred by the appellate waiver, the Third Circuit considered the merits of Wilson's appeal and affirmed the modification of Wilson's terms of supervised release.

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