The District Court committed a legal error when it withdrew a defendant’s guilty plea on his behalf instead of allowing the defendant the choice to stand by the plea or withdraw it, ruled the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Juan Carlos Adame-Hernandez sold cocaine and was a source of the drug distributed by the Mockabee organization referenced in a separate opinion released Monday by the 7th Circuit. Hernandez entered into a plea agreement Jan. 3, 2011, in which he would be subject to a base level of 38. The parties agreed that he should be sentenced to 204 months in prison, followed by supervised release and a fine.
The presentence investigation report said that Hernandez was responsible for more than 150 kilograms of cocaine, a number he objected to. Six months after the guilty plea, the prosecutor claimed that Hernandez objected to the base level offense stipulated since he disputed the amount of drug attributed to him, and that this is grounds to find a breach of the plea agreement.
Judge Sarah Evans Barker found this position to be a breach, withdrew his guilty plea and set the matter for trial because the sentence was not consistence with other sentences given out to defendants in similar situations. A grand jury indicted him again, with the counts being the same as alleged previously. Hernandez attempted to have his original plea reinstated, but when that failed, he agreed to plead guilty again. This time he was sentenced to 300 months in prison on two counts.
In United States of America v. Juan Carlos Adame-Hernandez, 12-1268, the 7th Circuit ordered the District Court to allow Hernandez to maintain his original guilty plea and be sentenced under its terms.
Once the judge accepted his guilty plea, the conditions under which the plea may be withdrawn are governed by Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Nothing in that rule authorizes the court to withdraw the defendant’s guilty plea for him. It can reject the plea agreement but then must give the defendant an opportunity to withdraw the plea or stand by it. That did not occur in this case.
Neither the government nor the District Court had the authority to subject him to the same indictment again, the judges ruled.
“Our holding is an exceedingly narrow one, and pertains only to cases in which a defendant pleads guilty after the district court has already accepted a guilty plea to charges that, on the face of the indictment or other charging document, are identical to those the defendant pleads to in the later proceeding. This case fits well within the exception to the general waiver rule already recognized in (Menna v. New York, 423 U.S. 61 (1975)) and (Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 31 (1974)), and a guilty plea will still act to bar typical objections against the district court’s handling of plea agreements and related issues,” Judge John Tinder wrote.