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United States v. Lee

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

May 1, 2018

United States of America, Appellee
v.
John Han Lee, Appellant

          Argued January 18, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:13-cr-00081-1)

          A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender, argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

          Luke M. Jones, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Nicholas P. Coleman, and Michael K. Atkinson, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

          Before: Henderson, Rogers, and Kavanaugh, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge

         When a defendant enters into a plea agreement with the Government, the defendant may agree to waive the right to appeal the sentence. At the defendant's subsequent plea hearing, the district court must ensure that the defendant understands that appeal waiver. In particular, Rule 11(b)(1)(N) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires the district court, at the plea hearing, to "determine that the defendant understands" the "terms of any plea-agreement provision waiving the right to appeal" the defendant's sentence.

         Suppose that a defendant agrees to plead guilty and signs a written plea agreement that waives the right to appeal the sentence. But then the district court, in violation of Rule 11, fails to discuss the appeal waiver at the plea hearing. On appeal, do we still enforce the appeal waiver?

         This Court has not yet decided how a district court's failure to comply with Rule 11(b)(1)(N) affects the validity of an appeal waiver. The text of Rule 11(h) guides our analysis. Rule 11(h) provides that a Rule 11 error must be deemed harmless if the error did not affect the defendant's "substantial rights." A Rule 11(b)(1)(N) error at the plea hearing does not affect the defendant's substantial rights if the defendant still knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived the right to appeal. To determine whether the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived the right to appeal, the court of appeals must examine the entire record, including both the written plea agreement and the plea hearing.

         In this case, defendant John Han Lee entered into a written plea agreement with the Government. In the plea agreement, Lee waived his right to appeal a sentence that was within or below the applicable Guidelines range. At Lee's subsequent plea hearing, the District Court did not discuss the appeal waiver. Lee pled guilty and was later sentenced to a within-Guidelines sentence of 18 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. He has appealed his sentence.

         After examining the entire record, we conclude that Lee knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived the right to appeal his within-Guidelines sentence. We therefore enforce the appeal waiver and dismiss Lee's appeal.

         I

         In 2013, John Han Lee entered into a written plea agreement with the Government. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Lee agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery of a public official and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. The plea agreement included the following appeal waiver:

Your client is also aware that the parties' calculation of the sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines is not a promise of the sentence to be imposed on him and is not binding on the Court. Knowing that, your client waives the right to appeal his sentence or the manner in which it was determined pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3742, except to the extent that (a) the Court sentences your client to a period of imprisonment longer than the statutory maximum, (b) the Court departs upward from the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range pursuant to the provisions of U.S.S.G. §§ 5K2, or (c) the Court imposes a period of incarceration above the guidelines range for a total offense level of 25 based on a Criminal History Category I. . . . In agreeing to this waiver, your client is aware that his sentence has not yet been determined by the Court. Realizing the uncertainty in estimating what sentence the Court will ultimately impose, your client knowingly and willingly waives his right to appeal the sentence, to the extent noted above, in exchange for the concessions made by this Office in this Plea Agreement.

         Lee signed the plea agreement. The agreement stated that Lee had read and understood the agreement, that he had discussed it with his counsel, and that he was entering into the agreement "without reservation, " "voluntarily, " and of his "own free will." The agreement also stated that Lee was "satisfied" with his counsel's services. Lee's counsel - who was an experienced criminal defense attorney - also signed the plea agreement, affirming that he had "fully" discussed the agreement's provisions with Lee. App. 35.

         Lee then pled guilty before a magistrate judge. At the plea hearing, Lee stated that he had attended college for a few years. The magistrate judge asked Lee to confirm that he had "completely and thoroughly discussed" the plea with his counsel. Lee said that he had. Lee also said that he was satisfied with his counsel's services. Lee confirmed that he had read the written plea agreement "very carefully" and that his signature indicated his acceptance of the agreement's terms. Finally, the magistrate judge asked Lee if he had any questions about the plea agreement. Lee said that he did not. App. 39-42.

         The magistrate judge did not question Lee about the appeal-waiver provision and, indeed, never mentioned the appeal-waiver provision. Lee's counsel did not object to the magistrate judge's failure to discuss the appeal-waiver provision.

          At the end of the plea hearing, the magistrate judge determined that Lee was pleading guilty knowingly and voluntarily. The magistrate judge therefore recommended that the District Court accept Lee's plea. The District Court in turn accepted the plea.

         The District Court later sentenced Lee to a within-Guidelines sentence of 18 months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release.

         Lee has appealed his sentence, asking us to vacate most of the conditions of supervised release. Because we conclude that Lee waived his right ...


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