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Date: 08-30-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. Oksana Butler

Case Number: 19-40095

Judge: Jerry E. Smith

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Plaintiff's Attorney: Not Listed

Defendant's Attorney:


New Orleans, LA Criminal defense Lawyer Directory


Description:

New Orleans, LA- Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with a conspiracy to
possess with intent to manufacture and distribute meth charge.



Upon executing a search warrant, officers discovered a plethora of
drugs in Butler’s bedroom. Butler agreed to plead guilty of conspiracy to
possess with intent to manufacture and distribute meth. Two parts of that
agreement are pertinent.
First, the parties agreed that the court should sentence Butler to 144
months’ imprisonment, a $100 special assessment, and a 5-year term of
supervised release (“SR”).
1
But the agreement made no mention of (1) special conditions that might accompany SR or (2) whether the court could
render Butler temporarily ineligible for federal benefits per 21 U.S.C.
§ 862(b)(1)(B).
Second, Butler “waive[d] the right to appeal the conviction, sentence,
fine, order of restitution, or order of forfeiture . . . on all grounds.” She
reserved the right to appeal “the failure of the Court, after accepting this
agreement, to impose a sentence in accordance with the terms of this
agreement.”2
After Butler entered her plea, the presentence investigation report
(“PSR”) recommended that the court (1) impose special conditions of SR3
and (2) deny Butler federal benefits for up to five years, per § 862(b)(1)(B).
Butler didn’t object to either, and the court imposed those special conditions
1 The agreement also provided Butler “the opportunity to withdraw” her plea if
the court rejected the agreement’s terms.
2 The agreement contained a merger clause, specifying “that this agreement is a
complete statement of the parties’ agreement in this case.”
3 Those conditions require Butler to (1) “provide the probation officer with access
to any requested financial information,” (2) “not possess or consume any alcoholic beverages,” (3) “participate in a program of testing and treatment for alcohol abuse,” (4) “participate in a program of testing and treatment for drug abuse,” and (5) “participate in any
combination of psychiatric, psychological, or mental health treatment programs.”
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No. 19-40095
3
of SR and ordered Butler ineligible for federal benefits for five years.
II.
Butler contends that the court failed to sentence her in accordance
with her plea agreement. We (A) ascertain the appropriate standard of
review and then (B) analyze Butler’s theory.
A.
In the district court, Butler did not aver that the court failed to sentence her in accordance with the plea agreement. Because her objection “was
not brought to the court’s attention,” our review is for “plain error” only.4
Butler agrees. To establish plain error, a defendant must show, at the first
prong, “an error that has not been intentionally relinquished or abandoned.”
United States v. Mims, 992 F.3d 406, 409 (5th Cir. 2021) (cleaned up).
B.
The court did not err—plainly or otherwise. Butler’s theory thus
flounders on the first prong of plain error review. Id.
“Once the court has accepted a plea agreement . . . it is, as a general
rule, bound by the terms of that agreement.” McClure v. Ashcroft, 335 F.3d
404, 413 (5th Cir. 2003) (cleaned up). We thus need to determine whether
the court’s pronounced sentence was “incompatible with the terms of the
agreement.” Delgado, 769 F. App’x at 145. We construe the agreement “in
accord with what the parties intended,”5 employing “general contract principles and strictly constru[ing] the terms of the agreement against the Govern4 Fed. R. Crim. P. 52(b); accord United States v. Delgado, 769 F. App’x 144, 145
(5th Cir.) (per curiam), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 280 (2019).
5 United States v. Bond, 414 F.3d 542, 545 (5th Cir. 2005); see also United States v.
Williams, 949 F.3d 237, 238 (5th Cir. 2020).
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No. 19-40095
4
ment as the drafter.” Williams, 949 F.3d at 238.
Butler’s theory is that “the parties did not agree to” (1) “a five-year
period of ineligibility for federal benefits” or (2) “special conditions of supervised release.” The court’s decision to impose those conditions, the argument goes, constitutes a failure to impose a sentence in accordance with the
plea agreement. We disagree.
The parties did not form any agreement vis-à-vis § 862 ineligibility or
special conditions of SR, and “[w]e do not infer obligations not agreed to by
the parties.”6 Where an agreement is silent about a condition, it provides no
evidence “that the government promised or that [the defendant] bargained
for” the relevant condition. United States v. Taylor, No. 93-5021, 1994 WL
57381, at *1 (5th Cir. Feb. 11, 1994) (per curiam). Consequently, we have
repeatedly declined to construe a plea agreement’s silence as a constraint on
sentencing discretion.
7
Thus, the silence in Butler’s plea agreement didn’t
cabin the court’s discretion vis-à-vis § 862 or special conditions of SR.
8
6 United States v. Taylor, No. 17-15613, 2021 WL 2376367, at *2 (11th Cir. June 10,
2021) (per curiam) (unpublished); see also United States v. Hernandez, 17 F.3d 78, 82 (5th
Cir. 1994) (“As the agreement was thus silent on this issue, the government’s potential
obligation to move for a downward departure is even more questionable.”); cf. United States
v. Benchimol, 471 U.S. 453, 456 (1985) (per curiam) (“[I]t was error for the Court of Appeals
to imply as a matter of law a term which the parties themselves did not agree upon.”).
7 For instance, where a plea agreement was “silent regarding whether the sentences should be served concurrently or consecutively,” the “district court had discretion
to determine whether to order that the sentence . . . be served concurrently or consecutively.” United States v. Brown, 432 F. App’x 339, 340 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam); accord
Taylor, 1994 WL 57381, at *1. As another example, where a “plea agreement . . . had no
provision that bound the district court to grant a [sentencing] reduction,” a court’s decision to deny that reduction did not “constitute[] a rejection of the plea agreement.” Delgado, 769 F. App’x at 145.
8 Even supposing that the agreement’s silence rendered it ambiguous, parole evidence likewise demonstrates that Butler didn’t consider her plea agreement to bar § 862
ineligibility or special conditions of SR. “[W]hen a plea contract is unambiguous, this court
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No. 19-40095
5
Butler counters by noting that “a court choosing to accept a plea
agreement does not then have the option to perform a judicial line-item
veto.”9 Thus, Butler contends, the “plea agreement delineated the agreed
sentence, which did not include a five-year period of ineligibility for federal
benefits penalty or special conditions of supervised release.” In other words,
according to Butler, the plea agreement delineated every aspect of Butler’s
sentence, and imposition of anything not listed contravenes that agreement.
That’s wrong for three reasons.
First, this case is not like the line-item veto cases, because the court
did not reject any part of Butler’s proposed sentence. In its own words, the
court “accept[ed] the plea agreement and the judgment and the sentence will
be consistent with it.”
Second, where Butler bargained for the court not to exercise its usual
sentencing discretion, the plea agreement made that clear. For instance, the
parties agreed that Butler “will not receive a fine.” But they did not do that
for § 862 or special conditions of SR. By expressio unius, the parties did not
indicate any intent to bar the court from exercising its discretion vis-à-vis
§ 862 or special conditions of SR.
Third, the plea agreement contemplated “supervised release.” But
generally will not look beyond the four corners of the document.” United States v. McClure,
854 F.3d 789, 793 (5th Cir. 2017) (cleaned up). But courts sometimes check to see if any
evidence demonstrates contrary intent. See Bond, 414 F.3d at 545.
In pleading guilty, Butler acknowledged that she may have to forfeit federal benefits. Two iterations of the PSR indicated that Butler might be “ineligible for . . . federal
benefits for up to five years.” The PSR also listed special conditions of SR. And Butler
didn’t object to any of that. Thus, parole evidence suggests that Butler didn’t consider her
plea agreement to bar § 862 ineligibility or special conditions of SR.
9 United States v. Serrano-Lara, 698 F.3d 841, 844–45 (5th Cir. 2012); see also
United States v. Self, 596 F.3d 245, 249 (5th Cir. 2010).
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No. 19-40095
6
nothing in the agreement specified how, exactly, that release would be
“supervised.” It would be absurd to conclude that the agreement’s dearth
of details about SR stripped the court of discretion to impose conditions of
supervision. Thus, the court’s imposition of special conditions comports
with the agreement’s contemplation of SR.
The upshot is that “nothing in the record indicates that the government promised or that [Butler] bargained for” her § 862 eligibility or a dearth
of special conditions. Taylor, 1994 WL 57381, at *1. The plea agreement’s
silence on those matters did not strip the court of its usual sentencing discretion. There was no error—plain or otherwise.
III.
Butler also contends that, even supposing that the court, in accordance with the plea agreement, could impose § 862 ineligibility, it still misapplied § 862. Butler’s appeal waiver bars that theory.
The government contends that Butler waived her right to challenge
the court’s application of § 862. “To determine whether an appeal of a sentence is barred by an appeal waiver provision in a plea agreement, we conduct
a two-step inquiry: (1) whether the waiver was knowing and voluntary and
(2) whether the waiver applies to the circumstances at hand . . . .” Bond,
414 F.3d at 544. Our review is de novo. United States v. Palmer, 456 F.3d 484,
488 (5th Cir. 2006). “[W]e construe appeal waivers narrowly, and against
the government.” Id. Applying that two-step inquiry, Butler waived her
right to appeal her § 862 claim.
First, Butler repeatedly agreed that she “voluntarily and of [her] own
free will agree[d] to give up [her] appellate rights.” And she doesn’t challenge the knowing or voluntary nature of her agreement. Thus, because Butler “does not allege . . . that [her] ratification of the plea agreement was anything but voluntary” and “indicate[s] that [s]he read and understood the . . .
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No. 19-40095
7
unambiguous waiver of appeal,” her “waiver was both knowing and voluntary.” Bond, 414 F.3d at 544.
Second, Butler’s waiver “applies to the circumstances at hand.” Id.
Butler “waive[d] the right to appeal the . . . sentence.” And § 862 ineligibility is an “aspect of [a] sentence.”10 General appeal waivers bar challenges to
aspects of sentencing so long as those aspects are “ordinarily considered . . .
component[s] of a sentence.” United States v. Keele, 755 F.3d 752, 755 (5th
Cir. 2014). Thus, Butler waived her right to appeal her § 862 ineligibility
when she “waive[d] the right to appeal the . . . sentence.”
The possible11 exceptions to that rule don’t apply here. For instance,
a “statutory maximum challenge [to restitution] is not barred by [a] waiver
of appeal.” United States v. Leal, 933 F.3d 426, 431 (5th Cir.), cert. denied,
140 S. Ct. 628 (2019). But Butler doesn’t contend that she brings a statutorymaximum challenge. As another example, a general appeal waiver does not
bar an appeal concerning an aspect of a sentence where, inter alia, “the
defendant was not admonished regarding” that aspect of sentencing.12 Here,
in contrast, Butler acknowledged that she “may . . . have to forfeit any federal
10 United States v. Silva-De Hoyos, 702 F.3d 843, 848 (5th Cir. 2012); see also United
States v. Bobadilla-Rodriguez, 534 F. App’x 250, 250 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (“Humberto Bobadilla–Rodriguez (Bobadilla) appeals his sentence . . . . He challenges the district
court’s imposition of a five-year period of ineligibility for federal benefits . . . .” (emphases
added)); United States v. Jeffers, 479 F. App’x 649, 650 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam)
(“[T]he sentencing court has clarified that Jeffers’ sentence did not include any ineligibility
for federal benefits.” (emphasis added)).
11 We assume, without deciding, that those exceptions could apply to Butler’s
situation.
12 Keele, 755 F.3d at 755; see also United States v. Smith, 528 F.3d 423, 424 (5th Cir.
2008) (noting, without deciding, that a general appeal waiver might not bar an appeal about
restitution where “the plea agreement . . . said nothing about restitution . . . [and the
defendant’s] obligation to pay restitution was not clearly communicated during the Rule 11
colloquy”).
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No. 19-40095
8
benefits [that she was] receiving.” Further, both iterations of the PSR indicated that, as part of her sentence, Butler could “be ineligible for any and all
federal benefits for up to five years.” In short, Butler knew that § 862 ineligibility could be part of her sentence, and she waived the right to appeal that
sentence. She thus waived her right to claim that the court misapplied § 862.

Outcome: AFFIRMED.

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