High Court To Consider Plea Bargaining Rules


If a criminal defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a particular penalty, may he cancel the deal if the judge refuses to impose that sentence? The Supreme Court will decide that question and clarify the rules for plea bargains, the Los Angeles Times says.

More than 95% of the nearly 71,000 convictions in federal court were obtained last year via guilty pleas. “The criminal justice system depends on guilty pleas in general and plea bargaining in particular,” the U.S. government told the high court. Federal rules say that a plea agreement between prosecutors and the defendant is not binding on the judge. The rules say a defendant “has no right to withdraw the [guilty] plea” if the judge decides to impose a harsher sentence.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit called it a “miscarriage of justice” to enforce a guilty plea against a defendant who was not warned that his plea must stand even if the government does not uphold its side of the deal.

The ruling was in the case of Carlos Benitez, who agreed to plead guilty to a drug charge after being told of a recommended six-year term. A judge sentenced him to 10 years after she learned of Benitez’ prior record. He tried to withdraw his plea. The Supreme Court will decide what standard should apply in cases when a defendant says he was misled into pleading guilty.


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