United States v. Copeland, No. 11-4654
Decided: February 25, 2013
Larry Junior Copeland pleaded guilty to distributing five or more grams of crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C.§ 841(a)(1). Copeland waived his right to appeal in his plea agreement. However, Copeland appealed his sentence. On appeal, Copeland argued that the district court incorrectly calculated his sentence range under the Sentencing Guidelines and imposed an “illegal” and substantively unreasonable sentence. Copeland also argued that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion to continue his sentencing hearing. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the sentencing issues and affirmed the continuance issue.
In early 2010, Copeland sold 28.7 grams of cocaine and 39.2 grams of crack cocaine to a confidential informant. Based on this evidence, the government charged Copeland with one count of distributing five or more grams of cocaine (Count One) and one count of distributing five or more grams of crack cocaine (Count Two), both in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). On June 28, 2010, the government notified Copeland that it was seeking an enhanced sentence based on Copeland’s prior felony drug offenses. On February 22, 2011, Copeland pleaded guilty to Count Two, and the government dismissed Count One. As part of the plea agreement, Copeland waived his right to appeal. The plea agreement also set out the statutory sentencing ranges mandated by §841(b)(1)(b), which is a five- to forty-year term that can be increased to ten years to life by the statutory enhancement. The plea agreement made clear that Copeland could not withdraw his guilty plea even if the court imposed the maximum. Copeland also acknowledged to the district court that he understood the terms of the plea agreement. Therefore, the court found that Copeland’s guilty plea was entered into freely and voluntarily.
The Fourth Circuit first examined whether Copeland entered into a valid waiver. The court explained that “[a] defendant may waive the right to appeal his conviction and sentence so long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary.” The court found that Copeland knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appeal because he affirmed to the district court that he had read and discussed the entire plea agreement with his lawyer. Nevertheless, Copeland argued that his sentencing challenge did not fall within the scope of the waiver. The court disagreed and held that Copeland’s sentencing challenge fell within the scope of the waiver. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Copeland’s motion to continue his sentencing hearing. The court explained that Copeland’s sentencing hearing had been scheduled for over three months and that Copeland therefore had adequate time to prepare.
– Graham Mitchell