US v. Maurice Dupree Starne
UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 3:16-cr-00042-FDW-DSC-9 Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. .. [16-4702]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
MAURICE DUPREE STARNES, a/k/a Pree,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at
Charlotte. Frank D. Whitney, Chief District Judge. (3:16-cr-00042-FDW-DSC-9)
Submitted: August 29, 2017
Decided: September 8, 2017
Before SHEDD, DUNCAN, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Carol Ann Bauer, Morganton, North Carolina, for Appellant. Amy Elizabeth Ray,
Assistant United States Attorney, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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Maurice Dupree Starnes pled guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement, to two
On appeal, Starnes’ counsel has filed a brief pursuant to Anders v.
California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), certifying that there are no meritorious grounds for appeal
but questioning whether a sufficient factual basis supported the guilty plea; whether the
Government should have moved for a downward departure; whether the district court erred
when it sentenced Starnes and denied his motion for a downward variance; and whether
Starnes received ineffective assistance of counsel. Starnes was advised of his right to file
a pro se supplemental brief, but has not filed a brief. We affirm.
Prior to accepting a guilty plea, “the [district] court must determine that there is a
factual basis for the plea.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(3). We review a “district court’s finding
of a factual basis for abuse of discretion, and will not find an abuse of discretion so long as
the district court could reasonably have determined that there was a sufficient factual basis
on the record before it.” United States v. Ketchum, 550 F.3d 363, 367 (4th Cir. 2008)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
The district court “need only be
subjectively satisfied that there is a sufficient factual basis for a conclusion that the
defendant committed all of the elements of the offense.” United States v. Mitchell, 104
F.3d 649, 652 (4th Cir. 1997).
At the plea hearing, the parties did not dispute the factual basis filed with the plea
agreement. Starnes admitted that he was involved in a drug conspiracy and that he
committed the related drug possession offense, and he stated his agreement with the
Government’s factual basis. Furthermore, the Government recited the drug quantities
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attributable to Starnes in accordance with the terms of his plea agreement. Although
Starnes now challenges the veracity of statements that his co-defendants made to law
enforcement officials, the factual basis identified other evidence that formed the basis for
his criminal charges that did not rely on such statements. The record thus shows that the
district court relied on a sufficient factual basis before accepting Starnes’ guilty plea.
Starnes argues that the Government should have moved to reduce his sentence. A
court, however, may remedy the Government’s refusal to move for a reduction of sentence
only if: (1) the Government has obligated itself in the plea agreement to move for a
reduction, United States v. Conner, 930 F.2d 1073, 1075 (4th Cir. 1991); or (2) the
Government’s refusal to move for a reduction was based on an unconstitutional motive,
Wade v. United States, 504 U.S. 181, 185-86 (1992).
The Government did not
contractually obligate itself in the plea agreement to move for a downward departure.
Additionally, Starnes does not identify, and the record does not reveal, that the Government
refused to move for a reduction because of an unconstitutional motive. Accordingly, this
Starnes next argues that he should have received a lower sentence. We review the
reasonableness of a sentence for abuse of discretion. United States v. Howard, 773 F.3d
519, 527-28 (4th Cir. 2014). We first review the sentence for procedural error, such as
improper calculation of the Guidelines range, failure to consider the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)
(2012) sentencing factors, selection of a sentence based on clearly erroneous facts, or
failure to adequately explain the sentence. Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51 (2007).
If, and only if, the sentence is procedurally reasonable do we consider its substantive
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reasonableness. United States v. Carter, 564 F.3d 325, 328 (4th Cir. 2009). In determining
whether the district court properly applied a sentencing enhancement, we “review factual
findings for clear error and legal conclusions de novo.” United States v. Adepoju, 756 F.3d
250, 256 (4th Cir. 2014).
The district court calculated the correct Guidelines range and afforded both parties
an adequate opportunity to argue for an appropriate sentence before allowing Starnes an
opportunity to allocute. The court’s explanation for Starnes’ sentence addressed several of
the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012) factors and was individualized and detailed. Starnes
received a sentence at the low end of the applicable Guidelines range. Starnes does not
identify any sentence enhancements that he received or that the district court erroneously
applied. We conclude that Starnes’ sentence is procedurally reasonable.
We next review the substantive reasonableness of the sentence, “taking into account
the ‘totality of the circumstances.” Gall, 552 U.S. at 51. We afford sentences that fall
within the properly calculated Guidelines range, as here, a presumption of reasonableness,
which “can only be rebutted by showing that the sentence is unreasonable when measured
against the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors.” United States v. Louthian, 756 F.3d 295, 306 (4th
Starnes questions the substantive reasonableness of his sentence by asserting that
the district court erred when it denied his motion for a downward variance, which he
requested based on his lack of criminal history, his difficult upbringing, and his efforts to
earn a living for his family. See United States v. Davis, 855 F.3d 587, 596 (4th Cir. 2017)
(reviewing denial of downward variance as part of substantive reasonableness of sentence).
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The district court, while recognizing that the Guidelines are merely advisory, found no
reason to issue a downward variance in this case. The court determined that a variance was
not warranted due to the seriousness of Starnes’ offense and the length of time in which he
engaged in selling drugs. Moreover, the record reveals that the district court carefully
considered the § 3553(a) factors before imposing the Guideline sentence of 108 months on
each count, running concurrently.
We therefore conclude that Starnes’ sentence is
Finally, Starnes contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because
he should have been allowed to review video and audio evidence in his case, his counsel
did not adequately explain the facts or plea agreement to him, and his counsel should have
moved to suppress certain evidence. We do not consider ineffective assistance claims on
direct appeal “[u]nless an attorney’s ineffectiveness conclusively appears on the face of the
record.” United States v. Faulls, 821 F.3d 502, 507 (4th Cir. 2016). Because the record
does not conclusively show that counsel was ineffective, we decline to consider Starnes’
In accordance with Anders, we have reviewed the entire record in this case and have
found no meritorious issues for appeal. We therefore affirm Starnes’ conviction and
sentence. This court requires that counsel inform Starnes, in writing, of the right to petition
the Supreme Court of the United States for further review. If Starnes requests that a petition
be filed, but counsel believes that such a petition would be frivolous, then counsel may
move in this court for leave to withdraw from representation. Counsel’s motion must state
that a copy thereof was served on Starnes.
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We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are
adequately presented in the materials before this court and argument would not aid the
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