By: Katharine Yale

Today in an unpublished per curiam decision, United States v. Talley, the Fourth Circuit considered the validity of an appellate waiver within Talley’s plea agreement. Talley pled guilty to conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robberies along with two other related charges. He was sentenced to 171 months in prison, a sentence that is at the top of the advisory sentencing guidelines range. Pursuant to Anders v. California, Talley submitted a brief questioning whether his sentence was substantively reasonable, even though there were no other meritorious grounds for appeal. In a supplemental pro se brief, Talley also asked the Fourth Circuit to review the record to determine whether the district court discriminated against him at the sentencing hearing on the basis of race. Talley’s plea agreement contained an appellate waiver, so the Fourth Circuit had to first determine whether that waiver was valid and enforceable.

When is an Appellate Waiver Contained in a Plea Agreement Deemed to be Valid?

The validity of an appellate waiver is reviewed de novo. In order to withstand review, the defendant must agree to the waiver knowingly and intelligently. To determine whether the defendant’s agreement was knowing and intelligent, the reviewing court must look at the totality of the circumstances. Such review includes an examination of the defendant’s educational background, familiarity with the terms of the plea agreement, and the experience and conduct of the defendant. If the district court fully questions the defendant about the waiver of his right to appeal during the plea colloquy, then the waiver is generally held to be both valid and enforceable.

Is Defendant’s Appellate Waiver Valid?

Here, the Fourth Circuit found that the waiver contained in Talley’s plea agreement was both valid and enforceable.

Should the Fourth Circuit Enforce Talley’s Waiver?

The Fourth Circuit will enforce a valid waiver as long as the issue being appealed is within the scope of the waiver. Here, Talley reserved only the right to appeal from a sentence in excess of the advisory sentencing guidelines range determined at sentencing. He waived all other rights to appeal his conviction and sentence. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit held that Talley’s challenge to the substantive reasonableness of his sentence was within the scope of the waiver because the sentence was within the sentencing guidelines.

Did the District Court Discriminate Against Talley at the Sentencing Hearing?

Despite the waiver, the Fourth Circuit was not precluded from determining whether the district court discriminated against Talley based on his race at the sentencing hearing. However, after a review of the sentencing transcript, the Fourth Circuit found no evidence to substantiate the allegation.

The Fourth Circuit Affirms in Part, Dismisses in Part, and Remands.

To the extent that Talley’s claims on appeal were within the scope of the appellate waiver, the Fourth Circuit granted the Government’s motion to dismiss the appeal. Otherwise, the judgment of the district court was affirmed, but the case was remanded to the district court to correct the amount of judgment.