Third Circuit Reviews Merits Despite Appellate Waiver—Again
For the second time in 2013, the Third Circuit has reviewed the merits of a criminal appeal despite the defendant’s agreement to waive his appellate rights.
This time, in United States v. Wilson, No. 12-1881 (3d Cir. Feb. 14, 2013), the court ruled that the waiver did not cover the appeal before it, paving the way for full appellate review.
Wilson pleaded guilty to drug offenses in 2007 and was sentenced to 65 months’ imprisonment. As part of his plea agreement, he waived his right to appeal his sentence unless the government appealed, the sentence was illegal or the sentence unreasonably exceeded the advisory-guidelines range.
Wilson appealed anyway, challenging the district court’s guidelines calculations, but the Third Circuit enforced his waiver and tossed his appeal.
Shortly after Wilson was released from federal custody in 2011, his probation officer asked the district court to modify the terms of Wilson’s supervised release by requiring him to participate in mental-health treatment. Over Wilson’s objection, the court agreed, and Wilson appealed to the Third Circuit.
…the court joined the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits in concluding that a broad appellate waiver does not bar an appeal of a later modification of conditions of supervised release.
On appeal, the government argued that the court’s prior enforcement of Wilson’s appellate waiver precluded him from challenging it again. But the Third Circuit concluded that its previous decision established only that Wilson’s waiver was knowing and voluntarily.
As to the waiver’s scope, the court joined the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits in concluding that a broad appellate waiver does not bar an appeal of a later modification of conditions of supervised release.
“Wilson’s appellate waiver can reasonably be understood to encompass, as relevant here, only a waiver of his right to appeal his ‘sentence,’ that is, what was imposed at sentencing and memorialized in the judgment and commitment order,” the court wrote. “Wilson did not explicitly waive a right to appeal a later modification of his ‘sentence’ and such a waiver cannot be presumed or inferred.”
Back in January, we wrote about United States v. Castro, a case in which the Third Circuit reached the merits of an appellate claim that fell within the scope of a valid appellate waiver. In Castro, the court threw out the conviction challenged on appeal.
Wilson had a less-happy ending for the defendant: In a one-paragraph analysis, the court concluded that there was “utterly no reason” to overturn the district court’s decision. So for Wilson, who appeared pro se on appeal, his victory on the waiver issue was short-lived.
But given the frequency of appellate waivers in federal plea agreements, other defendants in the Third Circuit may benefit from Wilson and Castro for years to come.