By Diana C. Castro

Today, in United States of America v. Gregory Lawrence Tropea, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denying Defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

Defendant Gregory Tropea pled guilty to three counts of receipt of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2) (2012), and one count of making a false statement to a probation officer, 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (2012). Consequently, Mr. Tropea was sentenced to 336 months in prison.

Arguing that he was unaware that by pleading guilty he was waiving his right to appeal the District Court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence, Mr. Tropea appealed to the Fourth Circuit claiming that the District Court erroneously denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

However, the Fourth Circuit Court determined that the District Court had complied with Fed. R. Crim. P. 11, Pleas. The Court noted that Mr. Tropea acknowledged he had read the plea agreement, understood it, and had reviewed it with his attorney. In the plea agreement, Mr. Tropea waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentence, and did not reserve the right to appeal the ruling on the motion to suppress. Moreover, at the Rule 11 hearing, defense counsel and the Assistant United States Attorney both stated that Mr. Tropea had not reserved the right to appeal the suppression ruling. Mr. Tropea, then having the opportunity to disagree, did not object.

Under United States v. Nicholson, a defendant does not have an “absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea.” 676 F.3d 376, 383-84 (4th Cir. 2012). Instead, the defendant must demonstrate a “fair and just reason” for withdrawal. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2)(B); United States v. Ubakanma, 215 F.3d 421, 424 (4th Cir. 2000).

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reviewed and held that the District Court had not abused its discretion because the District Court had properly conducted Mr. Tropea’s Rule 11 proceeding, and it had correctly applied the factors set forth in United States v. Moore. See United States v. Bowman, 348 F.3d 408, 414 (4th Cir. 2003). The United States v. Moore factors applied include “(1) whether the defendant has offered credible evidence that his plea was not knowing or not voluntary, (2) whether the defendant has credibly asserted his legal innocence, (3) whether there has been a delay between the entering of the plea and the filing of the motion, (4) whether defendant has had close assistance of competent counsel, (5) whether withdrawal will cause prejudice to the government, and (6) whether it will inconvenience the court and waste judicial resources.” 931 F.2d 245,
248 (4th Cir. 1991).

Noting that Mr. Tropea failed to offer any credible evidence that he pled unknowingly or involuntarily, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court ruling denying Mr. Tropea’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.