By Kelsey Kolb

Today, in United States v. Contee, the Fourth Circuit affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion the District Court for the District of Maryland’s 108-month sentence for defendant Sean Bradford Contee. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Contee pled guilty to a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 846, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute twenty-eight grams or more of cocaine base. Contee was sentenced to 108 months’ imprisonment, which was within the Guidelines of his crime. Although Contee did not assert any meritorious issues for appeal, he challenged his sentence on the grounds that the plea was not knowing and voluntary. In support of the challenge, Contee argued that he was denied access to discovery and that his plea was coerced through threats by counsel.

Was there an abuse of discretion in finding Contee’s guilty plea to be knowing and voluntary?

The Fourth Circuit reviewed the reasonableness—both procedural and substantive—of Contee’s sentence under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Ultimately, the court found no abuse of discretion on either of the reasonableness grounds.

The Sentence was Procedurally Reasonable.

To asses procedural reasonableness, the court considered whether the district court properly (1) calculated a sentence within the range provided by the Guidelines, (2) gave both parties an opportunity to argue for an appropriate sentence, (3) considered the factors of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012), and (4) provided sufficient explanation for the sentence it rendered.

Under these four factors, the court found no abuse of discretion and determined that the sentence was procedurally reasonable.

The Sentence was Substantively Reasonable.

After finding procedural reasonableness of the sentence, the court considered substantive reasonableness. In accordance with United States v. Mendoza-Mendoza, the court first found the sentence to be presumptively reasonable in its substance. The defendant then had an opportunity to rebut the presumption by proving the sentence’s unreasonableness when measured against the § 3553(a) factors. The defendant failed to rebut the presumption. Thus, the court found no abuse of discretion and determined that the sentence was also substantively reasonable.

The Court affirmed Contee’s Sentence and Denied his Motion for Declaratory Judgment and Order.

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