April 21, 2019

Archives for December 14, 2015

Tenth Circuit: District Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Take Any Action After Sentencing on Guilty Plea

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Spaulding on Tuesday, September 1, 2015.

In May 2011, ATF agents learned that A.J. Aldridge was willing to sell firearms and methamphetamine. An undercover agent arranged to purchase a gun and some meth from Aldridge, and met with Aldridge and his supplier, Robert Blankenship. Blankenship declined to sell the agent a gun because he was concerned the agent was an undercover officer, but he sold some meth. A short time later, the agent again contacted Blankenship and arranged to buy more meth. Blankenship said he would send a relative to deliver the meth. When the agent arrived at the pickup location, Michael Spaulding pulled into the parking lot and the agent completed the transaction. Spaulding, Blankenship, and Aldridge were subsequently arrested and charged with distribution of methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Spaulding entered into a plea deal with the government, agreeing to plead guilty to distribution and to cooperate in the prosecution of his co-defendants. In exchange, the government agreed to recommend a three-level decrease in Spaulding’s offense level and move for a downward departure for substantial assistance, creating an advisory sentencing range of 77 to 96 months.

Spaulding entered his guilty plea and the district court judge requested the preparation of a presentence report (PSR). The PSR computed Spaulding’s guidelines range as 110 to 137 months. At the sentencing hearing in December 2012, the government moved for a downward departure, which the district court nominally granted. The district court denied Spaulding’s motions for downward departure and adjustment for acceptance of responsibility. The district court sentenced Spaulding to 137 months, the top of the guidelines range, because of his extensive criminal history. When the government asked the district court to consider its § 5K1.1 motion, the district court said it had considered it and was not following the government’s recommendation. Spaulding then moved to correct the sentence or to alternatively allow him to withdraw his guilty plea. The district court granted his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and Spaulding entered into another plea agreement with the government, again with the goal of reaching a guidelines range of 77 to 96 months. At the subsequent sentencing hearing, the district court entered two sentences of 137 months each to run concurrently. Spaulding appealed to the Tenth Circuit, contending the district court erred in rejecting his second plea agreement and refusing to consider the guidelines in sentencing.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit noticed a jurisdictional defect and requested that the parties brief the issue of whether the district court had jurisdiction under Rule 11(e) to take any action after entering sentence on the first guilty plea. The government argued that the district court had lost jurisdiction after entering Spaulding’s sentence, and that the proper remedy would be to remand to the district court to vacate all orders entered after the December 2012 sentencing hearing. Spaulding argued that since the district court had entered its order allowing him to withdraw his guilty plea nunc pro tunc it had retained jurisdiction over subsequent actions, and also that his motion to withdraw was a collateral attack on his conviction and collateral attacks do not implicate Rule 11(e).

The Tenth Circuit evaluated Rule 11(e) and determined it is jurisdictional. Rule 11(e) advises “After the court imposes sentence, the defendant may not withdraw a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, and the plea may be set aside only on direct appeal or collateral attack.” Because the court had imposed its sentence in December 2012, it lacked jurisdiction to allow Spaulding to withdraw his guilty plea. The Tenth Circuit found it was of no consequence that the district court’s sentence was entered orally. The Tenth Circuit addressed Spaulding’s argument that Rule 11(e) was not implicated in this case and disagreed. The Circuit found that although the district court’s order allowing Spaulding to withdraw his guilty plea was issued nunc pro tunc, it did not have jurisdiction to consider the motion because of Rule 11(e)’s bar. The Tenth Circuit found that the appropriate remedy was to remand to the district court to vacate all actions taken after the December 2012 sentence was entered. At that time, Spaulding would be able to file a direct appeal.

The Tenth Circuit remanded to the district court to reinstate its December 2012 sentence and vacate all other orders issued after that date. Judge Gorsuch wrote a thoughtful dissent, noting that some circumstances justify allowing case-by-case evaluation of jurisdiction.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 12/11/2015

On Friday, December 11, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. Franco

United States v. Zambrano-Sanchez

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.