United States v. Petties (4th Cir. August 2022)

The Federal Docket

August 24, 2022

Pursuant to a conditional plea agreement with the Government, Shelby Sherrod Petties pleaded guilty to one count of committing a crime of violence while having failed to register as a sex offender but expressly reserved the right to appeal his conviction on the ground that kidnapping (which was his predicate offense) is not categorically a “crime of violence.” As part of this agreement, the Government promised to dismiss the other charges against Petties.

On appeal, because of intervening precedent, the Government conceded the point, and the Fourth Circuit vacated the judgement and remanded. Petties then moved for release, but the Government filed a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3296 to reinstate one of the other charges it had dismissed against him. The district court denied Petties’s motion for release and held that by vacating the judgement, the circuit court had “reinstated the indictment and reset the case,” which left Petties charged with three charges again. Two of those charges were no longer viable since they lacked predicates, but they could be “narrowed” to lesser included offenses. After his subsequent bench trial, district court found him guilty on all charges and gave him the same sentence he originally received. Petties appealed.

Reviewing the district court’s interpretation of the plea agreement de novo, the Fourth Circuit vacated Petties’s conviction and sentence. Under the fairest reading of the agreement, Petties was expressly allowed to appeal his conviction on the grounds that he won, and he therefore did not violate the agreement in so doing, leaving the Government bound to its side of the bargain. The agreement also did not, as the Government argued, implicitly bind Petties to plead guilty to the lesser included offense when his appeal was successful.

Appeal from the Eastern District of North Carolina

Opinion by Harris, joined by Motz and Quattlebaum

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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