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United States v. Weon, No. 12-4164

Decided: July 17, 2013

Finding that the district court’s criminal sentence was neither procedurally nor substantively unreasonable, the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Yooho Weon (“Weon”) was charged with five counts of willfully evading corporate income tax returns from 2004 to 2008. With the assistance of counsel, and a CPA, Weon entered into a written plea agreement, admitting all charges. The plea agreement stipulated that, for the purposes of the plea agreement and sentencing, the total tax loss was approximately 2.4 million dollars. Subsequently, the district court held a Rule 11 hearing to determine whether the guilty plea was entered into knowingly and voluntarily. During the hearing, Weon confirmed, under oath, that he had reviewed the factual stipulation and that those facts were true and correct. Still, following a six-month postponement, two weeks prior to the sentencing hearing, he informed opposing counsel that, according to his newly obtained forensic accountant, the actual tax loss was $40,000 rather than $2.4 million. The district court, however, held that Weon was bound by his stipulation for purposes of the sentencing hearing. Consequently, Weon moved to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that it was entered into involuntarily because he was under the mistaken belief that the tax revenue loss figure was accurate when he agreed to the plea agreement’s terms. Finding the report of Weon’s forensic accountant “highly unpersuasive and riddled with holes,” the court disagreed.  Following its ruling on Weon’s motion to withdraw his plea, the court conducted his sentencing hearing. Without considering any evidence or argument that the tax revenue loss was materially lower than $2.4 million, the court imposed concurrent sentences of 30 months imprisonment, a sentence below the guidelines range, 33 to 41 months, found by the court. Weon appealed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit first addressed whether Weon waived his right to appeal pursuant to the plea agreement’s waiver provision. Finding that the provision was ambiguous as applied to Weon, the court declined to construe the waiver provision as barring Weon’s right to appeal. Turning to the merits, the court considered Weon’s challenges regarding the reasonableness of his sentence and found that: (1) procedurally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in prohibiting Weon from arguing that the tax revenue loss was materially less than $2.4 million because Weon knowingly and voluntarily stipulated to that amount in his plea agreement; and (2) Weon’s below-guidelines sentence of 30 months’ imprisonment was not substantively unreasonable.

Full Opinion

-W. Ryan Nichols