By: Michael Klotz

Today, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in United States of America v. Boggs. In this case, Mr. Boggs appealed a 57-month sentence imposed pursuant to an agreement in which he plead guilty to wire fraud. The issue on appeal was whether the government breached the terms of the plea agreement by failing to move for an adjustment of the sentence. The agreement specified that the government would recommend a reduction of the sentence if Mr. Boggs complied with his obligations under the agreement and accepted responsibility for his conduct.

Prior to his sentencing, Mr. Boggs made a statement through his counsel to his probation officer that he “did not mean to commit a fraud.” At his sentencing, Mr. Boggs challenged the loss amount, but asserted that although he did not intend to defraud the victim, he was nonetheless guilty because he did not do what he was supposed to do with the money. Further, Mr. Boggs attempted to “distance[] himself from the statement he gave the probation officer.” The district court concluded that Mr. Boggs had not accepted responsibility for this conduct, and sentenced him to the maximum within the sentencing range of 46 to 57 months.

On appeal, Mr. Boggs argued that the government breached the plea agreement because he had accepted responsibility, and argued further that the “acceptance of responsibility” provision in the plea agreement was ambiguous. The Fourth Circuit observed that Mr. Boggs’ actions both prior to sentencing and at his sentencing hearing were “inconsistent with the acceptance of responsibility.” Further, the court noted that the interpretation of a plea agreement is a matter governed by contract law, and the “acceptance of responsibility” provision in the plea agreement was not ambiguous. Thus, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court ruling that the government did not breach the plea agreement.