Appeal Waivers and Supervised Release

Federal Plea Agreements

The Devil is in the Details

Over 95% of federal defendants plead guilty, according the the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Because of Bill Otis, Law Professor and contributor to Crime and Consequences, most plea agreements now come with appeal waivers: a waiver of the defendant’s right to appeal.

On the surface, at least to this blogger, the waiver of appeal would bar any appeal of conviction and sentence (except for maybe the habeas writ from 18 U.S.C. §2255). What about the imposed terms or conditions of Supervised Release? Are you barred from appealing or moving to change these?

This is one of those times that it really matters where you are convicted.

The Fifth Circuit – Out of Luck

From US. v. Scallon and Findlaw’s 5th Circuit Blog:

Unlike Cooley v. United States, in which the Fifth Circuit ruled that a waiver of appeal didn’t bar a defendant from appealing if he was “sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission,” there were no altered guidelines for supervised release in Scallon’s case.

Signing a plea agreement and waiver of appeal may get your client out of jail faster — or help him avoid jail altogether — but it also means he waives his right to appeal. Make sure your plea-bargaining clients understand that “waiver of appeal” is more than just terminology; in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s binding on both the sentence and the supervised release terms.

The Third Circuit – Have at It

From U.S. v. Wilson and Findlaw’s 3rd Circuit Blog we get the opposite answer:

When a criminal defendant waives his right to appeal, the courts take him at his word that he is, in fact, waiving appeals.

A lot of the defendants don’t think that “waiving appeal” means what the courts think it means (Inconceivable!) and they appeal anyway. It usually doesn’t work. But a Third Circuit concluded this week that a waiver of appeal did not bar an appeal of an order modifying the terms and conditions of supervised release.

So there it is, a circuit split that helps some but not others. If you’re surprised at the 5th Circuit’s conservative reading of appeal waivers, then you must be new to the game. Anybody willing to take bets on the 9th?

3rd Circuit Applies Lower Mandatory Minimum Terms to FSA Pipeline Cases

Pretrial Defendants

Many times a federal criminal defendant can sit on pretrial status for a long time. Sometimes this status can last years. In Crack Cocaine cases, this can create a problem at sentencing when district courts try to decide which rules to follow.

Who FSA Applies to (and Who it Doesn’t)

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) was enacted on August 3, 2010. Those that are sentenced before the enactment of FSA, get sentenced using the old rules. Those that commit their offenses after the enactment of FSA get sentenced under the new rules.

These new rules lower the base-offense levels of many crack cocaine offenses, change the mandatory minimum sentences to greatly increase the quantities of “cocaine base” that trigger them, and eliminate the mandatory minimum altogether for simple possession of small quantities of crack cocaine.

FSA Pipeline Cases

But what about pretrial defendants who committed their crime before FSA was enacted (August 3, 2010), but are sentenced afterwards? These are called  “FSA Pipeline Cases” because the defendants in question were in the sentencing pipeline when FSA was enacted.

This is a question that has been asked and answered by four circuit courts. The First, Eleventh, and now Third Circuit (as of August 9, 2011) courts have said that the new rules apply to pipeline cases. The Seventh Circuit stands alone in ruling against applying the newer, fairer rules to pipeline cases.

Sentencing decisions in all other circuits will depend on representation. If you know somebody who was sentenced by any circuit other than the Seventh Circuit for crack cocaine charges, they may well be entitled to significant sentence reductions.

Contact us for a Free Consultation Today!

Call us at (480) 382-9287 for a free consultation to find out how we can help you and your incarcerated loved one get sentences reduced.

For more ways to contact us, visit our contact us page for contact form and e-mail addresses.

Learn about us and how our services work on our about page.
Read More About Crack Cocaine Sentence Reductions
If you were sentenced under old law, see our main page about getting your sentence reduced.
Read about the Sentencing Commission’s decision to make FSA Retroactive.
Read the text of the Third Circuit’s recent decision to make FSA apply to pipeline cases.