Judicial Vindicitveness Claim Bypasses Appeal Waiver

United States v. Singletary, No. 21-4351, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 19775 (4th Cir. Aug. 1, 2023)

Fourth Circuit: Claim of Judicial Vindictiveness Bypasses any Appeal Waiver

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held on August 1, 2023, that a claim of judicial vindictiveness at sentencing bypasses any appeal waiver in a plea agreement, allowing the appeal to move forward. Here’s what the court said in regard to that issue:

“We will decline to enforce a valid appeal waiver where the sentencing court violated a fundamental constitutional or statutory right that was firmly established at the time of sentencing, or where the court based its sentence on a constitutionally impermissible factor such as race. These exceptions derive from the understanding that a defendant’s agreement to waive appellate review of his sentence is implicitly conditioned on the assumption that the proceedings following entry of the plea will be conducted in accordance with constitutional limitations.

We conclude that an allegation of judicial vindictiveness fits squarely within this narrow class of claims. A defendant’s fundamental due process right to appeal his sentence without fear of retribution by the sentencing court has been firmly established for half a century. And much as a defendant cannot fairly be said to have waived his right to appeal a sentence based on his race or other protected characteristic, we think a defendant’s execution of a general appeal waiver is implicitly conditioned on the assumption that he will be sentenced free from

the trial court’s vindictiveness. To conclude otherwise would permit defendants who waive their appeal rights to be sentenced entirely at the whim of the district court” – precisely the result our precedent rejects.”

Thus, the court held that a claim that a sentencing judge was vindictive during sentencing was not barred by an appeal waiver in the plea agreement.

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