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Defendant breached plea agreement by fleeing to Mexico

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A defendant was unable to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that despite his decision to flee the country for five years before he was sentenced in a drug case, the government should have to stick to the terms of his original plea agreement.

In United States of America v. Javier Munoz, 12-3351, Munoz agreed in 2007 to plead guilty to two cocaine charges. He was released on his own recognizance by promising to appear at all court proceedings and remain in the district. But before sentencing, he fled to his native Mexico, where he remained until U.S. Marshals caught him five years later.

When he was sentenced, the District Court applied a higher base offense level than what was agreed to in the 2007 plea, reasoning Munoz lost the benefit of his plea agreement when he fled. The judge imposed a sentence of 121 months for the drug charges, with an additional 60 months for fleeing the country. This sentence was 29 months below the bottom of the advisory guideline.

Munoz argued on appeal that the government wasn’t free to repudiate the plea agreement despite his flight because the agreement didn’t contain express language permitting it to do so.

“[A] defendant breaches a plea agreement when he absconds before sentencing even if the agreement is silent on the subject,” Judge David F. Hamilton wrote. “Even in the absence of a statement in a plea agreement itself explicitly requiring the defendant to show up for sentencing, any reasonable defendant has a common-sense understanding that he must not flee the country.”

Munoz also argued that the government got all it bargained for – a guilty plea preventing Munoz from going to trial – so it was not substantially harmed by his flight.

“But it is not as though Munoz had a flat tire while driving to the scheduled sentencing and made himself available for sentencing the next day. Because Munoz spent five years on the run, the government got much less than it bargained for. Although Munoz’s eventual capture ensured that the government obtained some benefit from his guilty plea – the benefit of avoiding trial – the government also devoted resources to finding, arresting, and extraditing him, and it faced the possibility that he would never be punished for his crimes,” Hamilton wrote.

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