Defendant Loses In High Court Plea Bargain Appeal


The Supreme Court ruled today that a robber may not withdraw a guilty plea even though the government reneged on a plea agreement and argued for a longer prison sentence, the Associated Press reports. By a 7 to 2 vote, the court upheld a 29-year prison term for James Puckett, who pleaded guilty in Texas to armed bank robbery. A condition of the plea was that prosecutors would tell the judge that Puckett had accepted responsibility for his actions and should be eligible for a shorter sentence.

Between the plea and sentencing, Puckett was implicated in another crime. Instead of advocating for the shorter sentence, prosecutors told the judge that Puckett should not get credit for accepting responsibility for his crime, since he allegedly took part in a new one. Justice Antonin Scalia said that because Puckett “obviously did not cease his life of crime,” giving him credit for accepting responsibility “would have been so ludicrous as itself to compromise the public reputation of judicial proceedings.” Dissenter David Souter said “Puckett is entitled to relief because he and every other defendant who may make an agreement with the government is entitled to take the government at its word.”

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