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United States v. Morales-Arroyo

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JUAN ÁNGEL MORALES-ARROYO, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Carmen Consuelo Cerezo, U.S. District Judge]

          Merritt Schnipper on brief for appellant.

          Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, Mainon A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, and Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Thompson and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          HOWARD, Chief Judge.

         Juan Ángel Morales-Arroyo challenges the reasonableness of a 132-month prison sentence imposed for unlawful possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. He contends that the waiver-of-appeal provision in his plea agreement does not bar this appeal. After careful consideration, however, we conclude that it does and dismiss Morales's appeal.

         I.

         Morales pleaded guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement, to unlawful possession of three AK-47s in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) and 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), respectively.

         Of particular importance here, the plea agreement included a provision titled "Waiver of Appeal." This provision stated that Morales "knowingly and voluntarily waives the right to appeal the judgment and sentence in this case, provided that [he] is sentenced in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in the Sentence Recommendation provisions of this Plea Agreement."

         Under the plea agreement's "Sentence Recommendation" section, the parties stipulated that, "[i]n consideration of the relevant factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), " Morales would recommend "a sentence of 96 months of imprisonment and the United States [would] recommend to the Court a sentence of 144 moths [sic] of imprisonment."

         The district court accepted Morales's plea and sentenced him to 132 months in prison.

         II.

         As a threshold matter, we must determine whether the waiver-of-appeal provision is enforceable under the circumstances of this case. See United States v. Acosta-Roman, 549 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2008). "[U]nder ordinary circumstances, a knowing, voluntary waiver of the right to appeal from a sentence, contained in a plea agreement, ought to be enforced." United States v. Teeter, 257 F.3d 14, 23 (1st Cir. 2001).

         Typically, in determining whether a waiver is valid, we look to confirm that the plea agreement contains a clear statement elucidating the waiver and delineating its scope, and we examine the plea hearing to ascertain whether the defendant was specifically questioned about his understanding of the waiver and adequately informed of its ramifications. United Statesv.Chandler, 534 ...


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