United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
Jennifer R. Bockhorst and Zachary T. Lee, Assistant United
States Attorneys, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States;
Stephen R. Wills, Roanoke, Virginia, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones United States District Judge.
defendant has filed a motion seeking to enforce a written
plea agreement that the government contends is unenforceable
due to a mutual mistake of fact. For the reasons that follow,
I will not enforce the plea agreement.
evidentiary hearing has been held on the defendant's
motion. The following are my findings of fact, based upon the
evidence presented and the court's uncontested records.
defendant, Sanson P. Rodriguez, was charged by criminal
complaint on June 19, 2017,  with conspiring to possess with
the intent to distribute methamphetamine. He was arrested and
the Federal Public Defender for this District was appointed
to represent him. Nancy C. Dickenson, an Assistant Federal
Public Defender, appeared for the defendant at his initial
appearance and at a later detention and probable cause
hearing held on June 29. Immediately following that hearing,
AFPD Dickenson requested Assistant United States Attorney
Zachary T. Lee, the prosecutor in the case, to propose a
written plea agreement for her client.
7, AUSA Lee provided AFPD Dickenson with a proposed written
plea agreement. While no indictment had been retuned at that
time, the grand jury did in fact indict defendant Rodriguez
along with 23 other defendants on July 10. Rodriguez was
charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute
and distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance
containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and using a
communication facility in committing and causing the
facilitation of a felony drug offense, in violation of 21
U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(b)(1)(A), and 843(d) (Count
One), as well as using and carrying and possessing a firearm
in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count Three).
proposed plea agreement prepared by AUSA Lee (which will be
referred to as the First Plea Agreement), permitted Rodriguez
to plead guilty to a lesser included offense of Count One, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C). The difference
between the Indictment's charge and the First Plea
Agreement's proposal was substantial, in that it reduced
the statutory range of punishment for Count One from a
minimum of ten years and a maximum of life imprisonment to a
maximum of 20 years, with no mandatory minimum. The proposed
agreement also required Rodriguez to plead guilty to Count
Three, which required a mandatory minimum sentence of five
years, to be consecutive to any other sentence imposed.
See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i), (D)(ii).
First Plea Agreement also provided for a stipulation by the
parties that the base offense level applicable to the
defendant under U.S. Sentencing Guideline Manual
(“USSG”) § 2D1.1 (2016) would be 32,
representing 1.5 kilograms of a mixture or substance
containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine. The
government also agreed to recommend a sentence within the
applicable guideline range.
case was set for trial to begin December 11. Because the
volume of discovery required substantial review and
investigation, AFPD Dickenson did not discuss the First Plea
Agreement with Rodriguez in any detail for some time, except
to briefly advise him that the government had offered a plea
agreement that they needed to discuss. She also told him that
with the proposed recommended guideline range contained in
the First Plea Agreement, he could expect a sentence of
“around 15 years.” Tr. 22:12, ECF No.
October 30, having heard nothing from defense counsel, and
after obtaining further evidence that the methamphetamine
involved in the case was the purer form of the drug known as
“ice, ” which affected the possible guideline
sentence, AUSA Lee sent a new written Plea Agreement to AFPD
Dickenson by email. This document will be referred to as the
Second Plea Agreement. It was substantially different from
the First Plea Agreement in that it required a guilty plea to
Count One as charged and provided for a stipulated base
offense level of 36. After receiving the Second Plea
Agreement, Dickenson and Lee engaged in the following email
From Dickenson to Lee:
Is this same plea offer you sent before? Just wanted to ...