Question: What do plea bargains and tattoos have in common?
Answer: Both are drawn in permanent ink. And they may not age well.
According to Chief Judge Edward Carnesin an opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit who reversed Chief Judge Kristi DuBose of the Southern District of Alabama in her ruling that a sentence ordered under a plea bargain could be reduced later. Carnes directed the judge to re-impose the original sentence for drug trafficking and weapons charges.
Judge Robin Rosenbaum and Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the Fifth Circuit, sitting by designation, concurred.
"In negotiating a plea bargain both sides aim for the best terms they can get, placing bets on what the future will hold," Carnes wrote in his opening. "The problem is that the future and certainty are strangers and not everyone wins a wager. Sometimes a deal, like a tattoo, does not age well and what appeared to be attractive in the past seems unattractive in the future. But plea agreements, like most tattoos, are written in permanent ink and cannot be redrawn just because one party suffers from the plea bargain form of buyer's remorse."
"Generally speaking, a defendant who was sentenced to the mandatory minimum penalty established by statute is not entitled to any relief," Carnes said, "even if a retroactive amendment to the guidelines would otherwise reduce his sentencing range below what it was before the amendment."
Carnes acknowledged the deal did not turn out so well for the defendants, but said it's "too late now."
"Plea agreements are interpreted by what they say, not what they might have said if the defendants or the government could have foreseen the future," Carnes wrote. "Courts are not authorized to ink in revisions to ensure that the defendants continue to receive the same value regardless of future changes in the law."
The prosecutors included: Adam Overstreet, Kenyen Ray Brown and Steven Butler of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Alabama.
Melton and Flores were represented by Peter Madden, Kristen Gartman Rogers and Carlos Alfredo Williams of the federal Public Defender's Office.
The case is U.S.A. v. Kendrick Melton, No. 15-15738.