By Diana C. Castro

Today, in the criminal case United States v. Adonte Young, the Fourth Circuit affirmed in an unpublished opinion the decision of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, holding Young’s guilty plea was supported by an adequate factual basis.

 Defendant Questions Whether His Guilty Plea Was Adequately Supported

Under Anders v. California, the defendant does not argue that there are meritorious issues for appeal; however, he questions whether his guilty plea was supported by an adequate factual basis.  386 U.S. 738 (1967).

Defendant Pled Guilty to Aiding and Abetting of a § 924(c) Violation

To establish the aiding and abetting of a § 924(c) violation, the Government must prove “that the defendant actively participated in the underlying… violent crime with advance knowledge that a confederate would use or carry a gun during the crime’s commission.”  Rosemund v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1240, 1243 (2014).

Here, Young and a codefendant robbed a bank teller at gunpoint and fired two rounds as they left the bank. Even though Young denied firing the shots, he admitted he gave the codefendant the gun.  Moreover, the police found Young’s DNA on the firearm when the gun was recovered after the robbery.

A Plea Court Must Conduct a Colloquy Prior to Accepting a Guilty Plea

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1), before accepting a guilty plea, the plea court must inform the defendant of, and determine he understands, the nature of the charge to which he is pleading guilty, any mandatory minimum sentence, the maximum possible penalty applicable, and the various rights the defendant surrenders by pleading guilty.  United States v. DeFusco, 949 F.2d 114, 116 (4th Cir. 1991).

Additionally, the district court must also confirm that the defendant’s plea is voluntary, supported by an independent factual basis, and not a result of coercion in the plea agreements.

The Magistrate Judge Conducted a Thorough Plea Colloquy

Because Young did not move to withdraw his guilty plea or otherwise preserve any allegation of Rule 11 error, the Fourth Circuit determined it would review for plain error.  Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit held the magistrate satisfied the requirements of Rule 11 and ensured that Young’s plea was knowingly and voluntary.

A Court Has Wide Discretion in Determining Factual Basis of a Guilty Plea and May Rely on Anything in the Record

Under United States v. Ketchum, a court need only be “subjectively satisfied” that the factual basis is sufficient to establish each element of the offense.  550 F.3d 363, 366-67 (4th Cir. 2008).  “The district court must assure itself simply that the conduct to which the defendant admits is in fact an offense under the statutory provision under which he is pleading guilty.”  United States v. Carr, 271 F.3d 172, 178-79 n.6 (4th Cir. 2001).

Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Court Affirmed

Reviewing the facts of the case, the Fourth Circuit held the District Court did not err in finding a factual basis for the offense.

Applying Anders, the Court found no potentially meritorious issues and affirmed the District Court’s judgment.  Furthermore, the Court required that counsel inform Young, in writing, of his right to petition the Supreme Court of the United States for further review.