Third Circuit Tosses Conviction Despite Appellate Waiver

Posted On Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Third Circuit has thrown out the false-statement-to-authorities conviction of a former Philadelphia police inspector who had waived his appellate rights as part of a plea deal.

The 35-page opinion in United States v. Castro (3d Cir. Jan. 8, 2013) represents a rare decision by a court that enforcement of an otherwise-valid appellate waiver would cause “a miscarriage of justice.”

Castro was charged in 2011 with 10 counts related to alleged attempted extortion of a man with whom he had invested $90,000.  At trial, Castro was convicted of one count of making a false statement to a federal law-enforcement officer.  In the statement at issue, Castro denied receiving any money from the man he allegedly attempted to extort. 

The jury hung on eight of the other counts, and to avoid retrial, Castro pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit extortion.  As part of his deal, he agreed to waive “all rights to appeal or collaterally attack [his] conviction, sentence, or any other matter relating to this prosecution.”

The Third Circuit agreed with the government that the waiver encompassed his conviction at trial.  Ordinarily that would have left the court without authority to review the conviction. 

But the court ruled that the error Castro raised was so blatant and the effect so significant that it could review his claim anyway.

So what was the problem?  In short, the “false” statement Castro made was true. 

Castro never received money from the extortion target; all the cash he obtained came from the government, courtesy of an informant who gave Castro FBI funds that he claimed to have been collecting from the target.  Castro may have believed he was lying when he told the government that he never collected money from his target, but he was telling the truth.

“In the broadest sense,” the court wrote, “it is surely so that Castro was morally wrong even if not legally guilty, but our legal system does not convict people of being bad.”