Court Orders Sentencing Redo After Prosecutors Disregard Plea Deal – U.S. v. Wells

Plea deals can be a valuable tool for a person charged with a crime. They often allow the accused to agree to admit to a lesser crime – meaning less potential time in jail – in exchange for agreeing not to contest the charge at trial. The deals typically come with a number of rules that both the defendant and the prosecutors are expected to play by, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently explained in a case out of West Virginia.

penitentiaryMr. Wells was charged with various federal drug crimes following an incident in which law enforcement officers stopped his car and searched the vehicle. The cops found more than two grams of crack cocaine, according to the Court. Wells later agreed to a plea deal, under which he plead guilty to one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He also agreed to be completely truthful with law enforcement about his involvement with drugs. In return, federal prosecutors handling the case said they wouldn’t use any information that Wells gave them to later prosecute him for other crimes or to enhance his sentencing under the plea deal.

Wells was eventually sentenced according to federal guidelines, which take into account a number of factors such as the type of offense and the defendant’s criminal history. In this case, the sentence was enhanced because of the amount of crack Wells was caught with, as well as the fact that he was found to be carrying a handgun at the time and admitted to keeping a premises for making the drugs. During a sentencing hearing, prosecutors called Mr. Williams – Wells’ alleged partner in the drug dealing ring – as a witness. Among other questions, they asked Mr. Williams if he knew that Wells said that it was Williams who had given him more than two grams of crack. Williams denied the accusation, which the prosecutors said was based on information that Wells gave law enforcement in an interview following the plea deal.

On appeal, Wells argued that the government breached the plea deal by using information that he gave them in confidence at the sentencing hearing. The Fourth Circuit agreed, finding that the feds shouldn’t have used information from the interview to impeach Williams’ testimony during the hearing. “We conclude that this was clearly an improper use of Wells’ protected statements,” the Court said. Although the Court affirmed Wells’ conviction, it remanded the case back to the trial court for re-sentencing.

As this case makes clear, there are a number of issues to consider when mulling a possible plea agreement in a criminal case. It’s important that a person facing criminal charges seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Plea Deals and ‘Double Jeopardy’ in West Virginia Drug Cases – State v. Ferrell

When Can the Cops Stop and Search You on the Street? U.S. v. Richardson

Appealing a Criminal Conviction in West Virginia – State v. Imoh