Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, March 27, 2015

Symington: If agreed sentence is illegal, district court lacks authority to impose it

In U.S. v. Symington, No. 14-10482 (March 25, 2015), the Court held that the district court abused its discretion when it denied the defendant’s request to withdraw his guilty plea, when the plea agreement mistakenly stated that he would not be subject to the 15-year mandatory minimum of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) (ACCA), and the district court so advised him at the plea colloquy. When the parties entered into the plea agreement, they mistakenly believed that Symington’s prior conviction for fleeing and eluding was a misdemeanor, not a felony, and he therefore did not qualify for ACCA’s 15-year mandatory minimum for offenders with three prior convictions. The district court told Symington at his plea colloquy that he was subject to a 10-year maximum. However, the PSI later determined that the prior fleeing and eluding conviction was a felony, and that Symington therefore qualified for ACCA’s 15-year mandatory minimum. Symington moved to withdraw his plea, but the district court denied this request – and imposed a 15-year sentence. The Court rejected Symington’s argument that he was entitled to specific performance of his plea agreement – a 10-year maximum sentence. The Court noted that because of ACCA’s mandatory 15-year minimum, a 10-year sentence would be “illegal”; “the district court lacked the authority to impose the unlawful sentence contained in the plea agreement.” The Court, however, agreed with Symington that he should be permitted to withdraw his plea, and vacated his judgment with directions to the district court that it permit Symington to withdraw his plea.