Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for July 5

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

United States v. Collins

The government moved to enforce Bradley Collins’ appeal waiver in his plea agreement and to dismiss his appeal. 

Collins pleaded guilty to the transportation of child pornography. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he waived his right to appeal his “guilty plea, and any other aspect of [his] conviction, including but not limited to any rulings on pretrial suppression motions or any other pretrial dispositions of motions and issues.” He also “waive[d] the right to appeal [his] sentence, including any restitution, and the manner in which the sentence [was] determined, including its procedural reasonableness.” But “[i]f the sentence [was] above the advisory Guidelines range determined by the Court to apply to [his] case, [the appeal] waiver [did] not include [Mr. Collins’] right to appeal the substantive reasonableness of [his] sentence,” the opinion noted.

Additionally, Collins “waive[d] the right to collaterally challenge or move to modify [his] conviction or sentence, including any restitution, except with respect to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.” He preserved his “ability to file a motion for compassionate release to the extent such motion is based solely on ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ currently listed in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13, comment. (n.1).” 

The district court sentenced Collins to 135 months in prison, a length at the top of, but still within, the advisory guidelines range. Despite this within-guidelines sentence, Collins appealed. 

The government then moved to enforce the appeal waiver pursuant to United States v. Hahn. Under Hahn, the 10th Circuit evaluated the enforceability of an appeal waiver by considering “whether the disputed appeal falls within the scope of the waiver of appellate rights; whether the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his appellate rights; and whether enforcing the waiver would result in a miscarriage of justice.” Collins conceded the first two factors — that his appeal fell within the scope of the appeal waiver and he knowingly and voluntarily waived his appellate rights. The 10th Circuit didn’t consider those factors in line with its holding in United States v. Porter.

Collins contended enforcing his appeal waiver would result in a miscarriage of justice. According to the opinion, a miscarriage of justice occurs “only when the district court relied on an impermissible factor such as race; ineffective assistance of counsel in connection with the negotiation of the waiver renders the waiver invalid; the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum; or the waiver is otherwise unlawful,” explained the court, citing United States v. Sandoval. “For the waiver to be invalid on the ground of unlawfulness, the unlawfulness must seriously affect the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings” and “the defendant bears the burden of persuasion on this point.” 

The first three situations didn’t apply here, the 10th Circuit noted. Collins didn’t contend otherwise. Instead, he said enforcing his waiver would result in a miscarriage of justice for two reasons. First, he contended in sentencing him, the district court inappropriately relied on allegations he asserted were unreliable and that no charges were ever filed based on them. Second, he contended the district court erred in relying on the sentencing guidelines, which he asserted were flawed and politically motivated. 

But according to the 10th Circuit, these arguments didn’t establish a miscarriage of justice. The 10th Circuit didn’t focus on the result of the sentencing proceeding, but instead “on the right relinquished[] in analyzing whether an appeal waiver is valid” as established by United States v. Smith. Otherwise, “[t]o allow alleged errors in computing a defendant’s sentence to render a waiver unlawful would nullify the waiver based on the very sort of claim it was intended to waive,” the court wrote.

Collins asked the 10th Circuit to invalidate his appeal waiver based on his assertions that unreliable molestation allegations and congressionally driven sentencing guidelines contributed to a higher sentence. But any alleged error by the district court in referencing the molestation allegations amounted to a sentence-determination challenge that provided no basis for invalidating the appeal waiver, the appeals court held. The district court’s consideration of the sentencing guidelines wasn’t relevant to whether the waiver was unlawful. Collins identified no procedural defect that rendered his appeal waiver unlawful and failed to establish that enforcing it would result in a miscarriage of justice, the 10th Circuit noted.

The 10th Circuit granted the government’s motion to enforce the appeal waiver and dismissed the appeal.

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