By Michael Mitchell

Today, in the criminal case of United States v. Tagle, an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina upholding the defendant’s drug conviction and sentence.

Defendant Alleges Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The Fourth Circuit considered the defendant’s challenge to his 138-month sentence for a drug conviction resulting from a plea agreement. The defendant alleged ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney did not object to his waiver of appeal to his sentencing length in the plea agreement.

Guilty Plea Waives Right to Appeal

Armando Jiminez Tagle pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess fifty or more grams of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. The defendant believed that his 138-month sentence should be shortened based on the time that he spent in state custody before being transferred to federal court. As a result, he alleged ineffective assistance of counsel and challenged his sentence.

“Knowing and Intelligent” Waiver of Right to Appeal

In a de novo appellate review, the Fourth Circuit considered whether the defendant’s waiver of his right to appeal his conviction and sentence was “knowing and intelligent.” Under United States v. Thornsbury, the court must evaluate the totality of the circumstances, “including the experience and the conduct of the accused, as well as the accused’s educational background and familiarity with the terms of the plea agreement.” The waiver is generally enforced as long as it is valid.

Standard of Review: Totality of the Circumstances

The Fourth Circuit found that the defendant “knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appeal his sentence in his plea agreement” based on a totality of the circumstances. The defendant’s challenge was within the scope of the valid and enforceable waiver.

Fourth Circuit Affirms Conviction & Sentence

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment upholding the defendant’s conviction and 138-month sentence, dismissing the defendant’s challenge.