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United States v. Hunt

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

December 20, 2016

United States of America, Appellee
Devon Cleveland Hunt, also known as Man, Appellant

          Argued November 10, 2016

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:13-cr-00306-1)

          Edward C. Sussman, appointed by the court, argued the cause and filed the briefs for the appellant.

          Jason B. Feldman, Assistant United States Attorney, argued the cause for the appellee. Elizabeth Trosman and George P. Eliopoulos, Assistant United States Attorneys, were with him on the brief.

          Before: Henderson and Pillard, Circuit Judges, and Ginsburg, Senior Circuit Judge.


          Karen LeCraft Henderson, Circuit Judge

         Devon Hunt has a long history of drug dealing. Over the years he has done much of his business at Potomac Gardens, a housing project in southeast Washington, D.C. In this case, he conspired to distribute heroin from there. He pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement in which he anticipatorily waived his right to appeal certain aspects of his sentence. The district court sentenced him to 62 months of imprisonment, to be followed by five years of supervised release. Without saying why, the court conditioned Hunt's supervised release on his staying away from Potomac Gardens. Hunt objected to the condition but not to the lack of explanation.

         Hunt now appeals, challenging both the stay-away condition and the district court's failure to explain it. The government argues that Hunt's appeal waiver bars his claims. We disagree. The waiver contains ambiguities that the court compounded during the plea colloquy. We construe the ambiguities against the government, which drafted the plea agreement and provided no clarification during the colloquy. We nevertheless uphold the stay-away condition because Hunt's claims fail on the merits. First, because he did not object to the court's failure to explain the condition, we review his procedural claim for plain error only. To the extent there was a procedural error, it was not plain and did not affect his substantial rights. Second, as a substantive matter, the condition is well within the court's wide discretion. It will sensibly keep Hunt away from a neighborhood in which he has conducted numerous drug deals. And because he neither lives in the neighborhood nor alleges that he has family there, the condition does not unduly restrict his liberty.

          I. BACKGROUND

         A. Hunt's Offenses, Pa s t And Present

         Hunt has ties with Potomac Gardens but they are not to his credit. In 1987, he conducted at least three heroin deals there. In 1990, he assaulted police officers there. In 1994, he again participated in a series of heroin sales there. In the process, he threatened security guards and told a young child to keep an eye out for police. After he pleaded guilty to conspiracy based on the 1994 conduct, a long jail term kept him away from Potomac Gardens until at least 2006. In June 2009, the D.C. Housing Authority barred him from the complex. He was not deterred: narcotics officers found him at Potomac Gardens just a few months later.

         From late 2012 to early 2013, while residing elsewhere, Hunt once again used Potomac Gardens as a base of operations for drug dealing. He repeatedly sold heroin from there through a middleman to a confidential source. The deals involved a total of more than 100 grams of heroin. Based on those deals, the government charged him here with conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. It also charged him with six related drug offenses.

         B. The Guilty Plea

         Hunt was arrested and agreed to plead guilty to the conspiracy count in exchange for the government's dismissal of the other counts. The parties stipulated to an imprisonment range of 60 to 65 months and a five-year term of supervised release. Pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the parties further agreed that the sentencing range and five-year term of supervised release would bind the district court if it accepted the plea agreement.

          Finally, Hunt agreed to waive some of his appellate rights with respect to his sentence. In pertinent part, the appeal waiver stated:

[Hunt] understands that federal law, specifically 18 U.S.C. ยง 3742, affords defendants the right to appeal their sentences in certain circumstances. [Hunt] agrees to waive the right to appeal the sentence in this case, including any term of imprisonment, fine, forfeiture, award of restitution, term of supervised release, authority of the Court to set conditions of release, and the manner in which the sentence was determined, except to the extent the Court sentences [Hunt] above the statutory maximum or guidelines range determined by the Court or [Hunt] claims that [he] received ineffective assistance of counsel, in which case [he] would have the right to appeal the illegal ...

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