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United States v. Ritchison

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 4, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
Jeffrey Ritchison Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: November 17, 2017

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Omaha

          Before BENTON, SHEPHERD, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         Following Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), the district court[1] vacated Jeffrey Ritchison's 15-year sentence and resentenced him to a 10-year term of imprisonment. Ritchison appeals.

         I. Background

         In 2013, Ritchison was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e)(1). The indictment also alleged Ritchison had two prior felony convictions for burglary and one for robbery. The parties entered into a written plea agreement pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C)[2] in which Ritchison agreed to plead guilty to the one-count indictment and the government agreed not to prosecute Ritchison in the District of Nebraska for any other firearms offenses. Relevant to this appeal, the parties also agreed that if the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1), [3] applied, Ritchison "shall receive a sentence of 15 years, " but if the ACCA did not apply, "the defendant shall receive a sentence of 10 years."

         The court deferred acceptance of the plea agreement pending review of the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR). In the completed PSR, the probation officer concluded that Ritchison had at least two burglaries and one robbery, each of which qualified as a "violent felony" under the ACCA. As a result, Ritchison faced a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, and his Guidelines range was 180 to 210 months.[4] Neither party objected. At the March 17, 2014, sentencing hearing, the court adopted the PSR, accepted the parties' Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, and sentenced Ritchison to a 15-year term of imprisonment.

         In June 2016, Ritchison moved to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government conceded that, after Johnson, Ritchison's two prior burglary convictions no longer qualified as ACCA predicate offenses and agreed that Ritchison should be resentenced. The court vacated Ritchison's sentence and set the matter for a resentencing hearing. The probation office prepared a Resentencing Report (RSR). Ritchison's offense level was reduced to 19, but his criminal history category remained VI, resulting in a Guidelines range of 63 to 78 months. In a footnote to the RSR, the probation officer noted that under the terms of the original Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, the parties had agreed to a term of imprisonment of 10 years if the ACCA did not apply. Neither party objected to the RSR.

         At the January 5, 2017, resentencing hearing, the district court adopted the RSR, including the revised sentencing guideline calculations. The court asked the parties if there was any reason Ritchison should not be sentenced to the 10-year term of imprisonment to which they had stipulated in the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement. Ritchison argued the plea agreement was now null and void because it was based on a mutual mistake of the parties. Citing his postsentencing rehabilitation efforts, he requested a sentence within the revised advisory Guidelines range. The government argued that the court was bound by the terms of the parties' Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement. While recognizing Ritchison's postsentencing rehabilitation, the district court nonetheless concluded there was "no good reason not to accept [the parties'] stipulated sentence" and resentenced Ritchison to a term of imprisonment of 10 years.

         II. Discussion

         When a court grants a federal prisoner relief under § 2255, the statute provides that "the court shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). On appeal, Ritchison argues that the district court erred in resentencing him by concluding it was bound by the parties' Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement, or in the alternative, that enforcing the plea agreement violated established contract principles. "We review the court's legal conclusion[s] de novo." United States v. Scurlark, 560 F.3d 839, 841 (8th Cir. 2009). Likewise, "[w]e review de novo issues pertaining to the interpretation and enforcement of a plea agreement." United States v. Thompson, 403 F.3d 1037, 1039 (8th Cir. 2005).

         Ritchison concedes that we have not previously considered "the viability of an 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement after a sentence [has been] vacated under § 2255." Ritchison contends, however, that under our case law, "[§] 2255 affords the court broad and flexible power in correcting invalid convictions or sentences." Gardiner v. United States, 114 F.3d 734, 736 (8th Cir. 1997); see also United States v. Harrison, 113 F.3d 135, 137 (8th Cir. 1997) ("The statute gives district courts broad and flexible remedial authority to resentence a defendant and to correct the sentence as appropriate."). He points out that in prior cases, we have held that revisiting the entire sentence was an acceptable option under § 2255. Gardiner, 114 F.3d at 736; Harrison, 113 F.3d at 137. Ritchison urges us to "reopen[] all options for the district court on resentencing, " even when the parties have entered into a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement.

          But Ritchison relies on cases where the district court was faced with resentencing a defendant who had been sentenced based on multiple convictions that were interdependent. Gardiner, 114 F.3d at 736 ("[T]he only reason resentencing is even at issue . . . is because the § 924(c) sentences were intertwined with the drug trafficking sentences in the original proceedings."); Harrison, 113 F.3d at 137-38 (§ 924(c) conviction and drug conviction were interdependent for purposes of sentencing, and thus "the terms of imprisonment imposed on the gun and drug convictions constitute a 'sentence' within the meaning of § 2255"). When the sentence was a package, based on multiple counts, we determined that vacating one conviction without resentencing on the others "would ...

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