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United States v. Edgell

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

January 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
JOHNNY SYLVESTER EDGELL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: November 1, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for Northern District of West Virginia, at Clarksburg. Irene M. Keeley, Senior District Judge. (1:16-cr-00045-IMK-MJA-1)

         ARGUED:

          Linn Richard Walker, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Clarksburg, West Virginia, for Appellant.

          Stephen Donald Warner, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Elkins, West Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Kristen M. Leddy, Research and Writing Specialist, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Clarksburg, West Virginia, for Appellant.

          William J. Powell, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, NIEMEYER and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.

          PAMELA HARRIS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         After negotiating a plea agreement with the government, Johnny Sylvester Edgell pleaded guilty to one count of possessing a firearm as an unlawful drug user and one count of distributing methamphetamine. In exchange for that plea, the government agreed to a stipulation limiting Edgell's total drug conduct to "less than five (5) grams of substances containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine," J.A. 193, which corresponded to an advisory sentencing range of 10 to 16 months' imprisonment. But after the agreement was signed, the government received lab results showing that the substances in question were actual methamphetamine, and once the government shared that information with the probation office, Edgell's sentencing range increased to 30 to 37 months. At sentencing, the government advocated for a sentence consistent with that elevated range, and Edgell was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

         Edgell contends that the government breached his plea agreement in two respects: first, by disclosing the post-plea lab report to the probation office and sentencing court; and second, by failing to honor the agreement at sentencing, and instead advocating for a sentence inconsistent with its original stipulation. We cannot agree that the government breached its plea agreement by disclosing relevant and accurate information to the sentencing court. But we agree with Edgell that the government's conduct at the sentencing hearing denied him the benefit of his bargain. Given the government's breach, we vacate Edgell's sentence and remand for resentencing before a different district judge.

         I.

         Following three controlled buys in July 2015, Johnny Sylvester Edgell was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts of distributing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), and one count of unlawfully possessing a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(3) and 924(a)(2).

         Edgell and the government negotiated a plea agreement. For his part, Edgell agreed to plead guilty to the single firearm charge and to one count of distributing methamphetamine. In exchange, the government agreed to a stipulation that Edgell's drug conduct involved "less than five (5) grams of substances containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine" - that is, substances of a lower purity level than actual methamphetamine. J.A. 193. Pursuant to that stipulation, Edgell's advisory sentencing range would be 10 to 16 months' imprisonment.[1] The government additionally agreed to "recommend that any sentence of ...


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