December 29, 2020*
Bresky Law recently obtained a decision in the United States Court of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit that vacated our client’s sentence for federal criminal charges and ordered resentencing.
Our client had entered a plea agreement to plead guilty to federal criminal charges contained in an indictment, in exchange for the government’s promise to recommend at sentencing that the client receive a two-level reduction in the sentencing guidelines offense level applicable to the client’s offense. The recommended reduction was pursuant to Section 3E1.1(a) of the Sentencing Guidelines, based our client’s recognition and affirmative and timely acceptance of personal responsibility. The government also agreed to make a motion to reduce the offense level by one additional level if the offense level was determined to be 16 or higher. The terms were reduced to a written Plea Agreement.
Following the plea, the government refused to recommend the two-level reduction in the offense level as promised in the Plea Agreement. The government based its refusal on its assertion that the client engaged in prohibited conduct following the plea. At the sentencing hearing, the government objected to, and maintained its refusal to recommend, the two-level reduction. Over objection by our client’s trial counsel, the trial judge imposed a lengthy sentence for the charges without applying the two-level reduction.
Bresky Law represented the client on appeal of the sentence to the U. S. Court of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit. The firm argued that the government’s material promise to make the recommendation induced the defendant to waive the right to trial and plead guilty, and the defendant had a right to expect that the government would honor it. We also argued that the plain language of the Plea Agreement did not make the government’s obligation to recommend the reduction subject to any additional conditions, such as compliance with pretrial release. We relied upon Eleventh Circuit precedent reversing a defendant’s sentence in situations where the government failed to honor its promise to recommend a reduction and no conditions are stated or apply.
The Eleventh Circuit agreed with our arguments on behalf of the client, and issued a written opinion holding that the government breached the Plea Agreement. The Eleventh Circuit stressed that a plea agreement constitutes a waiver of substantial constitutional rights. The Eleventh Circuit found that the Plea Agreement had not made the government’s obligation to recommend the two-level reduction contingent upon any ongoing obligations on the defendant. The Eleventh Circuit contrasted this with the government’s promise to make the motion for an additional one-level reduction, for which the plea agreement explicitly stated the government would be relieved of its obligation if the defendant did not satisfy certain conditions.
The Eleventh Circuit vacated the client’s sentence and ordered resentencing before a different judge. The court also ordered that at resentencing the government is required to recommend the two-level reduction as promised in the Plea Agreement. This favorable result for our client could mean a significant reduction in the length of the client’s sentence.
* Not final until disposition of a timely filed motion for rehearing, if any.