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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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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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