The Third Circuit found defendants breached the terms of their plea agreements and vacated the sentences in United States v. Yusuf and United States v. Campbell, 993 F.3d 167 (3d 2021). These cases involved plea agreements that prohibited either party from seeking departures or variances. The defense in these two cases made very different sentencing arguments that the government argued violated that provision of the plea agreement. Both defendants received below guideline range sentences and the government appealed.
Appellant Campbell was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g), after a gun was discovered in his car following a traffic stop. Despite agreeing not to request any departures or variances, defense counsel reminded the court of the importance of §3553(a) factors, that the guidelines were only a “starting point,” and further submitted letters of support asking for leniency. When Appellant addressed the court, he asked for a probationary sentence. The government objected to these arguments. Nevertheless, the District Court granted a very significant variance, sentencing Campbell to only a third of the time calculated in the guideline range. On appeal, the Third Circuit ruled that Campbell’s request for a non-custodial sentence, after being prompted by his attorney, was an explicit request for a below the guideline sentence in violation of the plea agreement. The circuit court further held that nothing in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i) allows a defendant to ask the court to apply the §3553(a) factors when the plea agreement clearly prohibits the parties from seeking variances. The sentence was vacated, and the case remanded.