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Media Alerts - Dingle v. Stevenson -- Fourth Circuit
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November 10, 2016
  Dingle v. Stevenson -- Fourth Circuit
Roper v. Simmons Does Not Retroactively Invalidate a Guilty Plea

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Habeas Corpus

Issue Presented: Whether Roper v. Simmons, the United States Supreme Court's decision that invalidated the death penalty for juvenile offenders, may be applied retroactively to invalidate a defendant's guilty plea, where the dependent pled guilty to avoid the death penalty.

Brief Summary: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that Roper, a substantive rule, did not apply retroactively to invalidate Dingle's guilty plea for three reasons. First, Roper applies only to sentences of capital punishment, while Dingle received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Second, the Supreme Court has not suggested that a substantive rule stretches beyond the proscribed sentence to reopen guilty pleas with a different sentence. Third, Roper does not undermine the voluntariness of Dingle's guilty plea. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Dingle's habeas corpus petition.

Extended Summary: In 1993, Ronald Donald Dingle ("Dingle"), a 17-year-old juvenile at the time of his offense, was charged by the state of South Carolina with murder and a number of other crimes. The state intended to seek the death penalty against Dingle. Dingle pled guilty to all the charges in exchange for life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

In 2005, the Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), which held that imposing capital punishment on juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment. In 2013, Dingle filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. Dingle argued that Roper articulated a substantive rule that applied retroactively to his case and, therefore, his guilty plea should be abrogated. The district court found that Roper did not apply to situations where a defendant pled guilty to a non-capital sentence to avoid the possibility of a capital sentence. The district court denied Dingle's petition in its entirety.

Dingle appealed to the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on one issue: "whether Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), may be applied retroactively to invalidate Dingle's guilty plea where, pre-Roper, he allegedly pled guilty to avoid the death penalty."

The Fourth Circuit acknowledged that Roper was a substantive rule. However, in Roper, the Supreme Court made clear that its holding should be construed to apply only to capital punishment. As Dingle did not receive the death penalty, the Fourth Circuit held that Roper did not apply to Dingle's case.

The Fourth Circuit observed that the death penalty operated only as part of the calculus in Dingle's plea negotiations. In the court's view, acknowledging that Roper might have altered the calculus was "a far cry from finding that its substantive rule applie[d]." Citing Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), the Fourth Circuit explained that the Supreme Court has not yet suggested that a substantive rule stretches beyond the proscribed sentence to reopen guilty pleas with a different sentence. Pleading guilty typically entails a deliberate choice to accept the risks and rewards of a deal, and that decision may "not be casually set aside on the basis of buyer's remorse."

The Fourth Circuit explained that this principle was applied in Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970), a case similar to Dingle's case. In Brady, a criminal defendant was death penalty eligible and pled guilty to avoid capital punishment. When a subsequent Supreme Court decision would have made the defendant ineligible for the death penalty, the defendant urged that he be permitted to withdraw his plea. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, reasoning that "[t]he fact that Brady did not anticipate United States v. Jackson does not impugn the truth or reliability of his plea."

The Fourth Circuit held that although Roper altered the calculus underlying Dingle's decision to accept a plea agreement, it did "not undermine the voluntariness of his plea." Therefore, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Dingle's petition.

To read the full opinion, clickhere.

Panel: Judges Wilkinson, Motz, and Harris

Argument Date: 09/20/2016

Date of Issued Opinion: 10/25/2016

Docket Number: No. 15-6832

Decided: Affirmed by published opinion

Case Alert Author: Ziyi He, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Stephen J. van Stempvoort, MILLER JOHNSON, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellant. Alphonso Simon, Jr., OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF SOUTH CAROLINA, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Alan Wilson, Attorney General, John W. McIntosh, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Deputy Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF SOUTH CAROLINA, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Wilkinson

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 11/10/2016 04:37 PM     4th Circuit  

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