By Kaitlin Price

Today, in United States v. Watson, an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit dismissed Watson’s appeal after holding that Watson effectively waived his right to appeal.

Underlying Facts

Watson plead guilty to four counts of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) (2012), and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g), 924(e) (2012). In exchange, Watson received five concurrent 235 month sentences.  On appeal, Watson contended that the district court erred in applying a threat of death enhancement in calculating the offense level applicable to one of his robbery counts and effectively rendering his sentence unreasonable. The Government responded to Watson’s appellate arguments by seeking to enforce the appellate waiver provision in his plea agreement. After some consideration, the Court sided with the Government and dismissed.   

Standard for Legal Waiver of Appellate Rights

In United States v. Amaya-Portillo the Fourth Circuit explained that a defendant can waive his right to appeal so long as “waiver is a result of a knowing and intelligent decision.” A judge is not required for the district court judge to ask the defendant about his understanding of the effects of his waiver of a right to appeal, but instead the court must assess the totality of the circumstances to determine if the defendant had the knowledge to make an intelligent decision. The Fourth Circuit in Unite States v. General explained that the defendant’s experiences, conduct, educational background and familiarity with plea agreements are all factors that can be used to determine if the waiver is valid. The Court was clear that as long as the issue appealed is within the scope of the waiver, it will be enforced.

Here, the Fourth Circuit held that Watson’s waiver was valid because his waiver was knowing and intelligent. Further, the sentencing issue Watson attempts to raise was within the scope of the waiver, therefore the Fourth Circuit dismissed Watson’s appeal.