In United States v. Sanfilippo, No. 22-11175 (Feb. 8, 2024) (Jordan, Lagoa, Marcus), the Court dismissed Mr. Sanfilippo’s appeal.

Mr. Sanfilippo appealed his conviction for wire fraud pursuant to a guilty plea.  He argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment against him because it was issued after the expiration of the federal statute of limitations under 18 U.S.C. § 3282.  More specifically, he argued that the district court misinterpreted § 3282(a), and thus incorrectly concluded that the government indicted him within the statute of limitations by filing an information.  His argument specifically relied on a case that was pending before this Court at the time of his plea–United States v. B.G.G.  At the change of plea hearing, the government noted that if it turned out that the government was in error by filing an information within the statute of limitations, Mr. Sanfilippo «would be exonerated at that point, just as a matter of fundamental fairness.» The government further noted that what it would do was «allow [Sanfilippo] to withdraw his guilty plea, and then [the government] would have to dismiss the charges, because the statute of limitations had run.  Sanfilippo would be able to file a motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations again, in which case it would be granted at that point.»

The Court held, however, that it could not resolve the statute of limitations issue raised because Mr. Sanfilippo entered an unconditional guilty plea and, therefore, waived his ability to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment. The Court reiterated that a defendant’s unconditional plea of guilty, made knowingly, voluntarily, and with the benefit of competent counsel, waives all non-jurisdictional defects in that defendant’s court proceedings.  As such, if Mr. Sanfilippo wished to preserve appellate review of the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment while pleading guilty, he should have entered into a conditional plea in accordance with Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2).  The government’s statements at the change of plea hearing were insufficient to demonstrate its (and the court’s) direct assent to a conditional plea.

Judge Jordan concurred in full, but wrote separately to alert the parties that their agreement to allow Mr. Sanfilippo to withdraw his guilty plea if the Court ultimately rules against the government on the statute of limitations issue— something the district court seemed to countenance—will require traversing some tricky jurisdictional terrain.  This is so because a district court has limited jurisdiction to set aside or modify a defendant’s conviction or sentence, and it does not possess inherent authority to take such action.  Judge Jordan expressed confusion over how it is that the parties believed that they would be able, months or years from now, to go back to the district court and request that Mr. Sanfilippo be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in a closed case.  He noted the possibility of Mr. Sanfilippo seeking collateral relief, which has its own limitations period.

***This appeal is a cautionary tale regarding preserving issues for appeal.  Some issues, raised via pre-trial motion, require entry of a conditional plea in order to be preserved for appeal.***