United States v. Cozad (10th Cir. January 2022)

The Federal Docket

January 19, 2022

Leroya Cozad was convicted of aiding and abetting the making of counterfeit currency in violation of 18 USC 471. Unlike most federal defendants who enter a guilty plea pursuant to a plea agreement with the Government, Cozad entered an “open plea” when the Government would not agree to recommend a lower sentence.

At sentencing, the district court rejected the Government’s recommendation to the low end of the Guidelines (24 months) and Cozad’s recommendation for ___ months. The district court instead imposed a sentence of 27 months, the middle of the Guidelines range, and specifically cited the fact that the defendant had “submit a plea without a plea agreement” as a factor warranting a higher sentence. The judge explained that, since most plea agreements include a recommendation for a low-end of the Guidelines range, that is where he starts his sentencing analysis. Without that recommendation or a plea agreement, however, he starts it at the middle point of the range.

The Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court procedurally erred in considering the lack of a plea agreement when determining the sentence and sentencing Cozad “more harshly than it otherwise would have but for her decision to plea guilty without entering into an agreement with the government.”

The Court concluded that such a decision does not fall under one of the factors listed in 18 USC 3553, as the fact that a defendant pleaded pursuant to an open plea does not bear “any meaningful relationship to the 3553(a) factors.” The Court held that, “under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), it was procedurally unreasonable for the district court to impose a harsher sentence on Ms. Cozad based on her decision to enter an open plea.”

Appeal from the District of Kansas
Opinion by Seymour, joined by Bacharach and Phillips

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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