7th Circuit upholds fine that exceeded amount in plea agreement

Despite being assessed a fine that was $200 more than agreed to a plea agreement, a man convicted on multiple robbery-related felonies failed to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that his increased fine constituted reversible error.

Korrtel Filzen filed his appeal after pleading guilty in September 2019 to 11 counts related to an Indianapolis armed robbery scheme. The plea agreement set his sentencing range at 360 to 420 months and a special assessment of $900. Also, Filzen agreed to an appellate waiver.

The statute governing the special assessment required Filzen to pay $100 per felony count. According to Judge Michael Kanne, “The somewhat obvious issue is that $100 per count comes out to $1,100, not $900. And indeed, the district court sentenced Filzen to pay a special assessment of $1,100,” despite the $200 discrepancy in the plea agreement.

The Indiana Southern District Court imposed the full $1,100 without noting the discrepancy, and Filzen did not object. He was ultimately sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Filzen later appealed his sentence on the basis of the $200 discrepancy. He urged the 7th Circuit to reverse and remand to give him the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, but the appellate panel declined that request Tuesday.

While the district court did commit clear error – specifically, not informing Filzen that it was rejecting the plea agreement by imposing $1,100 – that error was not reversible, Kanne wrote.

“To start, Filzen received a lawful sentence. Indeed, under 18 U.S.C. § 3013(a)(2)(A), the district court was required to assess $100 per felony count,” the panel held. “… So while ‘the entry of an illegal sentence is a serious error routinely corrected on plain-error review,’ United States v. Pawlinski, 374 F.3d 536, 541 (7th Cir. 2004), the district court’s alteration here corrected a legal error in the plea agreement. In light of that, we do not think that it seriously affected the fairness, integrity or public reputation of the judicial proceedings.

“Moreover, although we often reverse an error that increased a defendant’s term of imprisonment because ‘[t]he risk of unnecessary deprivation of liberty particularly undermines the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings’ in certain cases, Rosales-Mireles v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1897, 1908 (2018), the same cannot be said for this error,” the court continued. “We do not agree with Filzen that the district court’s $200 variance that brought the sentence in line with the statute had any such effect on the proceedings. … There is no miscarriage of justice in allowing Filzen’s conviction to stand in light of his lawful sentence.”

In a footnote, the panel addressed the government’s argument that the appellate waiver barred Filzen’s appeal, writing that it “need not decide on that ground because we find no reversible error.”

The case is United States of America v. Korrtel Filzen, 20-1071.

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