By Dan Menken

Today, in United States v. Loftis, an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit upheld Scottie Allen Loftis’ sentence of 120 months’ imprisonment for possession of stolen firearms.

Loftis Pled Guilty to Possession of Stolen Firearms

Loftis pled guilty to possession of stolen firearms, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(j), and was sentenced to the agreed upon 120 months’ imprisonment.  Loftis filed a pro se supplemental brief, challenging his conviction and sentence and raising claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct.

Absent Failure to Comply with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, Loftis’ Sentence Not Appealable

Under plain error review, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court substantially complied with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 by ensuring that Loftis understood the import of his binding plea agreement.

The Court next turned to Rule 11(c)(1)(C), which states that subject to narrow exceptions, a defendant may not appeal an agreed upon sentence.  Because none of the exceptions were applicable and the sentence was not based on an incorrect application of the Sentencing Guidelines, the agreement between Loftis and the Government was appropriate.  Thus, the Fourth Circuit held that it did not have jurisdiction to review Loftis’ sentence.

Ineffective Assistance Claims Not Generally Addressed on Direct Appeal

Loftis further argued that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance by forcing him to plead guilty and by advising him to enter into the binding plea agreement.  The Fourth Circuit noted that unless an attorney’s ineffectiveness conclusively appears on the face of the record, a defendant would need to raise such a claim in a motion brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255.  In Loftis’ case, the record did not conclusively establish ineffective assistance, and, therefore, the Fourth Circuit concluded that Loftis must address his claims in a § 2255 motion.

No Evidence of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The Fourth Circuit further held that the record did not support Loftis’ claim that the prosecutor conspired with counsel to force Loftis’ guilty plea.

Loftis’ Conviction Affirmed

Thus, after reviewing the entire record, the Fourth Circuit concluded that there was no meritorious grounds for appeal and affirmed Loftis’ conviction.