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United States v. Sueiro

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

January 9, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
CHRISTOPHER ROBERT SUEIRO, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: October 31, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Rossie David Alston, Jr., District Judge. (1:17-cr-00284-RDA-1)

         ARGUED:

          Eugene Victor Gorokhov, BURNHAM & GOROKHOV PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Kellen Sean Dwyer, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Ziran Zhang, BURNHAM & GOROKHOV PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          James E. Burke, IV, Trial Attorney, Child Exploitation & Obscenity Section, Criminal Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C.; G. Zachary Terwilliger, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before KEENAN, FLOYD, and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges.

          FLOYD, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Appellant Christopher Sueiro awaits trial on four federal child pornography charges. Throughout over a year of pretrial hearings, Sueiro consistently asked to represent himself pursuant to Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). Although criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to represent themselves, that right is not absolute. See Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164, 171 (2008). On July 16, 2019, after a hearing, the district court issued a written order denying Sueiro's Faretta motion. Sueiro seeks to appeal that denial so that he may represent himself at trial. For the reasons that follow, this Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to consider Sueiro's interlocutory appeal.

         I.

         Whether we have subject-matter jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a pretrial Faretta motion is a question of first impression. We review our jurisdiction de novo. See Qingyun Li v. Holder, 666 F.3d 147, 149 (4th Cir. 2011). Under the final judgment rule, federal appellate court jurisdiction is limited to reviewing “final decisions of the district court.” See Flanagan v. United States, 465 U.S. 259, 263 (1984) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1291). In the criminal context, this means that this Court generally does not have appellate jurisdiction until after the imposition of a sentence. See id. (citing Berman v. United States, 302 U.S. 211, 212 (1937)); see also United States v. Lawrence, 201 F.3d 536, 538 (4th Cir. 2000).

         Sueiro argues that the denial of a Faretta motion falls within a narrow exception to the final judgment rule: the collateral order doctrine. Under this exception, a collateral order is immediately appealable if it (1) “conclusively determine[s] the disputed question, ” (2) “resolve[s] an important issue completely separate from the merits, ” and (3) is “effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.” Flanagan, 465 U.S. at 265 (quoting Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay,437 U.S. 463, 468 (1978)). Under the third prong, collateral orders in criminal cases are only “effectively unreviewable” if ...


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