03 February 2005

Withdrawn Guilty Plea Affords Little Protection

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held an oral argument session which I attended. They listened to oral argument for a criminal case, U.S. v. Wallace on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. This case has not gone to trial yet and is on appeal after the District Court judge granted a motion to suppress evidence. The District Court judge found that the statement made by defendant after a plea agreement was entered was prejudicial under Federal Rule 403.

The interesting question (though not at issue on appeal) brought up by Justice Williams was why Federal Rule 410 did not apply to the case. The Trial Court allowed Wallace to withdraw her plea of guilty under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(d) after finding that there had been miscommunication with her lawyer. Under Federal Rule 410(1) this withdrawn guilty plea cannot be used as evidence against Wallace. However, the statement that she was required to give as part of the plea agreement, is allowed as evidence under this rule. See United States v. Davis, 617 F.2d 677 (D.C. Cir. 1979). .

Although this is the current federal rule, it is strange that when the Court allows a guilty plea to be withdrawn, it treats the plea as if it never existed. Yet, it allows the statements of the defendant into evidence that would very likely have never been made if not for the plea agreement. Thus, the government can use these statements against the defendant without adhering to the agreements made in the plea bargain.

1 comment:

Ken Lammers said...

Remind me to show you a federal plea bargain next time you come by the office.