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United States v. Wilson Ruling: Government Cannot Unilaterally Release Itself from Plea Agreements

Takeaways from United States v. Wilson

Accepting responsibility for a crime can help with sentencing during a plea agreement. In United States v. Wilson, the defendant signed an agreement and pled guilty to 2 counts of possession and intent to distribute marijuana and heroin in exchange for a three-level downward adjustment and one dismissed charge. As part of the plea agreement, the parties agreed that the defendant would be responsible for at least 3 kilograms but less than 10 kilograms of heroin.

Although the United States made this agreement, the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) recommended a two-level enhancement due to the quantity of heroin the defendant was accountable for – 7.48 kilograms. This two-level enhancement would effectively nullify the three-level downward adjustment the defendant received during the plea agreement. Naturally, the defendant objected to the PSR. As a result, the United States ignored its plea agreement and sentenced the defendant to 35 years.

On appeal, the defendant claimed the United States had no right to dismiss the plea agreement. The government countered that it was freed from the plea agreement because the defendant objected to the PSR. Fortunately, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with the defendant, deciding that the government could not unilaterally decide for itself that it was released from its promises due to a defendant’s alleged breach.

The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded the 35-year sentence, returning the defendant to sentencing under the terms of the original plea agreement.

Errors in Sentencing and the Importance of Appeal

To be freed from a plea agreement, the government must obtain relief from the district court. If the government breaches its plea agreement without permission, any resulting sentence will not make it through the appeals process – regardless of any allegations against the defendant.

This case, like many others, demonstrates the importance of appeal. Just because the government is responsible for sentencing does not mean it always does so correctly. If the government does not uphold its plea agreements or follow the laws for sentencing, the defendant is entitled to justice.

In this case, 35 years was not a fair sentence, and the Fourth Circuit agreed. Without an appeal, the defendant might have served an unjust 35 years.

Do You Need Help With a Plea Agreement or an Appeal?

Plea agreements and appeal are 2 of the most important aspects of criminal defense. At Zendeh Del & Associates, PLLC, we can help you use these tools to obtain the best possible outcome for your case.

Our experienced attorneys and former prosecutors are available 24/7 to take your call. We will not allow the government to walk all over your rights, and we are not afraid to appeal when appropriate.

Whether you’re facing drug charges like the defendant in United States v. Wilson or other federal charges, we can help you negotiate with the United States government or any other prosecutorial body.

For high-quality, personalized legal services, please call us at (409) 204-5566 today or contact us online and schedule your free initial consultation.