By Caroline E. Daniel

Today, in United States v. Thomas, an unpublished criminal opinion, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendant Demetrius Thomas’ (“Thomas”) conviction and sentence.

Thomas Questions Validity of plea and Length of Sentence

Thomas pled guilty to a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) for distributing heroin, for which he was sentenced to 120 months.  He appealed, arguing that he did not enter into his guilty plea knowingly, that the sentence was unreasonable, and that his counsel had been ineffective.

Fourth Circuit Finds that Thomas Knowingly pled Guilty

Because he did not move to remove his guilty plea in district court, the Fourth Circuit reviewed Thomas’ guilty plea for plain error.  In reviewing the record, the Court determined that the district court had performed a proper plea colloquy, satisfying Rule 11.  The Court found that Thomas had been given the opportunity to give sworn statements, which reflected that his plea was “knowing, voluntary, and supported by a sufficient factual basis.”

Thomas’ Sentence was not Unreasonable

The Court reviewed both the procedural and substantive reasonableness of Thomas’ sentence under a “deferential abuse of discretion” standard.  The Fourth Circuit found that the lower court had satisfied both procedural and substantive requirements.

First, in terms of procedure, the Fourth Circuit held that the lower court had: (1) properly calculated Thomas’ sentencing range; (2) considered Thomas’ arguments for a lesser sentence; (3) considered the factors required by 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a); and (4) properly explained its analysis of those factors.  Next, the Fourth Circuit considered whether the sentence was substantively reasonable.  The Court explained that there is a presumption that a sentence within the Sentencing Guidelines range is reasonable, and that here, Thomas had not overcome that presumption.

Fourth Circuit Finds no Evidence of Ineffective Counsel

Finally, the Fourth Circuit found no evidence of ineffective counsel in the record.  The Court held that, even if counsel had been ineffective in some capacity, it would have been proper to raise this issue in a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.  Thus, the Court dismissed this claim without merit.

Fourth Circuit Affirms both Verdict and Sentence

After analyzing each of Thomas’ concerns, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.  Accordingly, Thomas was guilty of distributing heroin, and his sentence of 120 months stands.