United States v. Teeter, 00-2332

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Citation257 F.3d 14
Docket NumberNo. 00-2332,00-2332
Decision Date23 July 2001

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257 F.3d 14 (1st Cir. 2001)
No. 00-2332
United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit
Submitted April 3, 2001
Decided July 23, 2001


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Peter E. Rodway and Rodway & Horodyski on brief for appellant.

Jay P. McCloskey, United States Attorney, and Margaret D. McGaughey, Assistant United States Attorney, on brief for appellee.

Before Boudin, Chief Judge, Selya and Lynch, Circuit Judges.

Selya, Circuit Judge.

In this sentencing appeal, we address for the first time two important questions. The principal question concerns the validity of an advance waiver of appellate rights contained in a plea agreement.1 Although we conclude that such waivers are not forbidden, we refuse to give effect to the waiver in this case because the record offers no sufficient assurance that it was tendered knowingly and voluntarily.

Despite winning this battle, the appellant ultimately loses the war. Entertaining her appeal, we reach the second main question -one that involves the effect to be given to a stipulation, contained in a plea agreement, as to how a specific sentencing issue should be resolved. On the facts of this case, we hold that the district court did not commit reversible error in accepting and acting upon a stipulated cross-reference within the sentencing guidelines and, concomitantly, employing the stipulated base offense level (BOL) produced by the use of that cross-reference.

The appellant also raises other, more pedestrian issues. As to those issues, we hold that the district court's refusal to depart downward from the guideline sentencing range (GSR) did not constitute an appealable event; and that the court's assessment of the appellant's role in the offense was not clearly erroneous. Consequently, we affirm the substantial prison sentence imposed below.


Defendant-appellant Patricia A. Teeter is a forty-something-year-old woman whose story, insofar as relevant here, reflects misplaced affection, terrible judgment, and the gruesome depths of man's inhumanity to man. We recount the tale at some length.

The appellant's troubles began when she forged a close friendship with Steven Brown despite warnings from friends that Brown had a propensity for violence. On March 22, 1999, a matrimonial court found that Brown had physically abused his estranged wife, Deborah, and the couple's minor children. The court dealt Brown a series of heavy blows: it awarded custody

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to Deborah, sanctioned her departure from New York, and ordered Brown to refrain from any contact either with her or the children. Brown told the appellant of the court's decree, leaving no doubt about his perturbation.

On March 27, Brown asked the appellant to accompany him on a "vacation" trip to Maine (during which he would retrieve his dog from Deborah). Although the appellant knew that Brown had threatened violence against Deborah if he lost custody of his offspring, she nonetheless agreed to the excursion. She then watched Brown pack her car with a small arsenal, including an SKS assault rifle, a .20 gauge shotgun, ammunition for the weapons, and a pair of knives. Brown also stowed duct tape, rope, and two hand-held radios aboard the vehicle.

The "vacationers" departed from New York early the next morning. Once in New Hampshire, they temporarily abandoned the appellant's car, rented another vehicle, and proceeded to Lebanon, Maine. They eventually located the trailer occupied by Deborah, her children, her brother, her father, and her new swain. The new arrivals spent the afternoon and evening spying on the group while Brown formulated a plan for Deborah's abduction.

That night, Brown instructed the appellant to approach the trailer and attempt to lure one of the male occupants outside by claiming (falsely) that she was having car trouble. Brown told the appellant that if she succeeded, he would then incapacitate the good Samaritan. Following Brown's script, the appellant inveigled Deborah's brother, Donald Wood, Jr., to come outside. Brown hit him over the head with a piece of lead pipe as he approached the rental car. The blow made an "eerie" sound that the appellant later said she would never forget. Brown then dragged Wood into the woods - out of the appellant's sight - and stabbed him twice. As matters turned out, this last bit of mayhem was totally unnecessary, inasmuch as an autopsy later revealed that the blow to the head was fatal.

At Brown's request, the appellant returned to the trailer and, telling the same apocryphal tale, convinced Deborah's consort, Chris Brouillard, to inspect the car. When Brouillard approached, Brown forced him to the ground, questioned him about his relationship with Deborah, struck him with the pipe, dragged him into the copse, and stabbed him three times.

Not content with two murders, Brown instructed the appellant to fetch yet another victim from the trailer. Although the appellant attempted to comply, the third try did not go according to the script. Deborah - her suspicions aroused by the previous activity - insisted that she drive her own truck to the spot where the appellant's vehicle ostensibly had been stranded. As Deborah neared the rental car, she spied Brown lurking in the woods and drove away at high speed. After a short interval, she returned to the trailer. When she pulled into the driveway, Brown forced her into the rental car at gunpoint and drove to New Hampshire (with the appellant as an added passenger). The rental car was returned only after the appellant had wiped it down to obliterate her fingerprints.

The trio proceeded in the appellant's automobile to a motel in East Greenbush, New York. Acting on Brown's instructions, the appellant rented two adjoining rooms (one for herself, one for her fellow travelers). To prevent Deborah from calling for help, Brown removed the telephone from his room and gave it to the appellant. During the day, the appellant washed Brown's bloodstained clothes and ran errands for him. While away from the motel, she called a friend who informed her

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that Wood and Brouillard were dead, and that the police had mounted a manhunt for Brown. The appellant made no attempt either to flee or to contact the authorities. When the police raided the motel the next morning, she vainly attempted to warn Brown by giving a prearranged signal.

Following her arrest, the appellant faced a plethora of federal and state charges. With respect to the federal charges, she eventually entered into a plea agreement and admitted her guilt as to one count of conspiracy, two counts anent the use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence, two counts of aiding and abetting interstate domestic violence, one count of aiding and abetting interstate stalking, and one count of aiding and abetting the interstate violation of a protection order. 18 U.S.C. §§§§ 2, 371, 924(b)-(c), 2261(a), 2261A, 2262(a)-(1). The appellant also agreed not to contest certain of the state charges.2 In return, the United States agreed to dismiss three other counts, including one for kidnapping. The parties stipulated, for federal sentencing purposes, to a BOL of 43 (a figure derived by cross-reference to the first-degree murder guideline, USSG §§2A1.1). Finally, the appellant waived her right to appeal any sentence imposed by the district court.

The court convened a change-of-plea hearing on January 19, 2000. At that session, the court queried the appellant as to her overall understanding of the plea agreement, confirmed that no unexpressed promises had been made to her, and determined that she was changing her plea voluntarily. However, the court neglected to mention the waiver of appellate rights contained in the plea agreement. Instead, it told the appellant, without qualification and without any demurrer from the prosecutor, that she would have a right to appeal any sentence imposed.

At the disposition hearing (which stretched over several days), the appellant asseverated that notwithstanding the terms of her plea agreement, the district court should renounce the suggested cross-reference and recalculate her BOL. As a fallback, she argued that even if the cross-reference endured, she was entitled to a downward departure because she had never intended that Wood or Brouillard perish. Lastly, she sought a role-in-the-offense adjustment on the ground that she was a minimal (or, at most, minor) participant in the criminal activity.

The sentencing court rejected each and all of these importunings. The court cross-referenced to the first-degree murder guideline to reach a BOL of 43, reduced the offense level to 40 because the appellant had both accepted responsibility for her actions and cooperated with the authorities, see USSG §§3E1.1, and used that figure in calculating her GSR (eschewing any role-in-the-offense discount). Given the absence of any significant criminal history, these computations yielded a GSR of 292-365 months. The court sentenced the appellant at the bottom of that range but added a mandatory consecutive sentence of 60 months on the firearm counts. The court then advised the appellant, without tailoring its comments to the contours of the plea-agreement waiver of appeal, "that you have a right to appeal this sentence if you wish to do so." The prosecutor did not attempt to correct this apparent misstatement.

This timely appeal ensued. In it, the appellant seeks to revisit the issues that

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she unsuccessfully advanced at the disposition hearing. Before discussing that proffer, however, we first must confront the government's contention that this appeal cannot go forward because Teeter should be held to the terms of the...

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