United States v. Cozad, No. 20-3233 (10th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
This appeal raised a question of first impression: whether, under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), it was unreasonable for a district court to impose a harsher sentence based on a defendant’s decision to plead guilty without a plea agreement. Defendant-appellant Leroya Cozad was indicted on a single charge of aiding and abetting the making of counterfeit currency. During plea negotiations, she offered to plead guilty in exchange for the government’s recommendation that she be sentenced to 48 months’ probation. The government countered with an offer to recommend a custodial sentence at the low end of the guideline range. She declined and entered an open plea. Following her plea, probation prepared a presentence investigation report that recommended a custodial sentence of between 24 and 30 months based on the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The PSR’s guideline calculation reflected probation’s conclusion that Cozad had “clearly demonstrated acceptance of responsibility for the offense” and was therefore due a reduction of two levels under section 3E1.1(a) of the guidelines. Neither party objected to the PSR, although both submitted sentencing memoranda advocating for their preferred outcome: Cozad advocated for a term of probation; the government recommended the same recommendation it had offered to make during the plea negotiations. The district court rejected both recommendations and sentenced Cozad to a prison term of 27 months, the midpoint of the guideline range. "That Ms. Cozad’s sentence was the result of the district court’s own custom is significant." The Tenth Circuit held that under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), it was procedurally unreasonable for the district court to impose a harsher sentence based on defendant's decision to enter an open plea. Because the district court abused its discretion, Cozad’s sentence was vacated and her case remanded for resentencing.