Ninth Circuit Dismisses Appeal Due to Detailed Plea Agreement
Goodall's Alleged Robberies and Plea Agreement
Goodall was accused of two counts of Hobbs Act Robbery Conspiracy and two counts of Brandishing a Firearm in furtherance of a Crime of Violence. The crimes of violence were the robbery cases. The allegations stem from a set of bank robberies including auto parts stores, cell phone stores and a jewelry store.
Eventually Goodall engaged in a plea agreement that read the following:
The defendant knowingly and expressly waives: (a) the right to appeal any sentence imposed within or below the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range as determined by the Court; (b) the right to appeal the manner in which the Court determined the sentence on the grounds set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3742; and (c) the right to appeal any other aspect of the conviction or sentence and any order of restitution or forfeiture. The plea agreement also recommended a 240-month sentence by both parties. The parties also agreed to drop one of the brandishing a firearm in a crime of violence count.
The defendant also knowingly and expressly waives all collateral challenges, including any claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, to his conviction, sentence, and the procedure by which the Court adjudicated guilt and imposed sentence ....”
Goodall Challenges Plea at Sentencing
At Goodall’s sentencing he asked the court to take action pursuant to Johnson vs. United States, the 2015 case where the court indicated that the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutional (Johnson is a predecessor to Davis). Goodall argued that the residual clause in 18 USC 924(c) for a “crime of violence” was also unconstitutionally vague. He argued that “if true, his Hobbs Act Conspiracy could not constitute a crime of violence.
The government argued that Goodall could have been charged with eight counts of Hobbs Act Robbery, which does constitute a crime of violence under the Force Clause. If so, he could have been subject to 127 years in prison and the plea agreement was a show of leniency.
The court rejected the 240-month sentence recommendation as excessive and sentenced Goodall to 168 months: 84 months for the Hobbs Act Robbery Counts and 84 months for the firearm conviction. The district court declined to decide the Johnson issue and told him that he could seek an appeal. Goodall appealed.
Plain Language in Plea Agreement Prevented a Davis Claim
The court noted that plea agreements are contractual in nature and are measured by contract law standards. The court also noted they will generally enforce the plain language of a plea agreement if it is clear and unambiguous on its face.
The court noted the appellate waiver was broad here:
He waived “the right to appeal any ... aspect of the conviction or sentence.” The only exceptions were ineffective assistance of counsel and an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines range.
“Goodall, however, insists that the waiver does not preclude his appeal because it did not explicitly relinquish his appeal based on Davis. In other words, Goodall asks us to require the government to enumerate every possible ground for appeal, both known and unknown, to enforce a plea deal.
But the plain text of the plea agreement forecloses Goodall’s argument. He waived his ‘right to appeal any ... aspect of the conviction or sentence.’…the two narrow exceptions to the waiver confirm that Goodall’s waiver of “any other aspect of his conviction or sentence” includes this appeal.”
Plea Agreement "Knowingly and Willingly" Waived Right to Challenge the Firearms Charge
Goodall also argued his waiver was not knowing and voluntary. He argued after the Supreme Court decided Johnson and Davis that his appellate waiver had to be unknowing and involuntary because he could not possibly have contemplated this argument when he waived his appellate rights.
The court however indicated they have found that appellate waivers can be knowing and voluntary despite changes in the law:
When a defendant waives his appellate rights, he knows that he is giving up all appeals, no matter what unforeseen events may happen. In exchange for the waiver, a defendant receives “certainty derived from the negotiated plea with a set sentence parameter.”
Just because Goodall’s choice looks less favorable “with the benefit of hindsight[ ] does not make the choice involuntary.” A plea agreement is no different in this respect from any other contract in which someone may have buyer’s remorse after an unforeseen future event—the contract remains valid because the parties knowingly and voluntarily agreed to the terms. There is no do-over just because a defendant later regrets agreeing to a plea deal.”
Illegal Sentence Exception Did Not Apply
The Ninth Circuit indicated in the past they refused to enforce an appellate waiver when a “defendant’s sentence with the enhancement was greater than what was statutorily authorized for the conviction[.]” In that case, the court found the sentence was illegal and the court vacated the sentence.
But the difference here is that Goodall was seeking to vacate his conviction instead of an enhancement. The reason this matters is because the “illegal sentence” exception “rests on the inherent uncertainty in sentencing." When the parties agree to a plea deal, the sentence remains unknown because the sentencing “does not occur contemporaneously with the plea and waiver.”
The Ninth Circuit indicated that uncertainty did not exist for convictions:
“But that uncertainty does not exist for convictions. The contours of a conviction are fully known when the defendant pleads guilty and waives his appellate rights. The defendant admits his guilt, the facts alleged in the plea agreement, and the sufficiency of the facts to establish his guilt on each element of the crime charged. He also knows precisely what he is “giving up in exchange for the benefits of the guilty plea at the very moment the plea is entered—a trial and the constitutional rights that accompany it.”