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United States v. Damon

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

August 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RONALD DAMON, Appellant

          Argued June 5, 2019

          On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 3-06-cr-00471-001) District Judge: Hon. Freda L. Wolfson

          Richard Coughlin Julie A. McGrain (Argued) Office of the Federal Public Defender Counsel for Appellant

          Craig Carpenito Mark E. Coyne John F. Romano (Argued) Office of the United States Attorney

          Jason M. Richardson Office of the United States Attorney Counsel for Appellee.

          Before: JORDAN, BIBAS, and MATEY, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          MATEY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Ronald Damon signed a plea agreement with the United States accepting responsibility for a federal crime. He served time in custody and left prison. Now, having reentered society, he wants a fresh start, free from further oversight by the federal government. So Damon asked to end his term of supervised release a few years early. He offered facts and circumstances justifying his request, and highlighted the hardships imposed by restrictions on his activities. But Damon's present desires are controlled by a past decision: his contract with the government containing the terms and conditions of his guilty plea. Because his plea agreement precludes challenges to his sentence, and because any shortening of his supervision would amount to a change in his sentence, we will affirm the decision of the District Court.

         I. The Proceedings Before the District Court

         A. The Written Plea Agreement

         The facts are not in dispute. Damon pleaded guilty to knowingly and intentionally distributing and possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) (as amended in 2006) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. As is customary in federal criminal practice, the Government and Damon memorialized their agreement in writing. The plea agreement includes a provision stating that both parties "waive certain rights to file an appeal, collateral attack, writ or motion after sentencing, including, but not limited to an appeal under 18 U.S.C. § 3742 or a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255." (App. at 22.) Schedule A to the plea agreement provides:

Ronald Damon knows that he has and, except as noted below in this paragraph, voluntarily waives, the right to file any appeal, any collateral attack, or any other writ or motion, including but not limited to an appeal under 18 U.S.C. § 3742 or a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which challenges the sentence imposed by the sentencing court if that sentence falls within or below the Guidelines range that results from the agreed total Guidelines offense level of 33.

(Id. at 26.) The agreement also states that, "in addition to imposing any other penalty on Ronald Damon, the sentencing judge . . . pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841, must require Ronald Damon to serve a term of supervised release of at least 5 years, which will begin at the expiration of any term of imprisonment imposed." (Id. at 21.)

         Both Damon and the Government executed the plea agreement. Following Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1), the District Judge explained the agreement, including the maximum penalties, fines, and period of supervised release. And as required by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1)(N), the District Court asked Damon whether he understood that he was "giving up [his] right to file an appeal or otherwise attack the sentence that may be imposed in this matter" and Damon agreed. (Id. at 42-43.) A portion of their exchange is illustrative:

The Court: Do you understand that by the terms of the plea agreement both you and the government have given up the right to file an appeal or post-conviction relief under certain circumstances that are set forth in the plea agreement itself and in Schedule A to the plea agreement? ...

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