Federal Plea Hearings.

In federal court, about 97 percent of defendants plead guilty. As a result, Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 plays a big role in most federal criminal cases. This is because Rule 11 is the plea-hearing rule.

Of major interest, Rule 11 helps defendants in several ways. First, it protects defendants by requiring a federal judge to review the guilty plea. Second, it makes sure no one forces the defendant to plead guilty. Third, it gives the defense and the government leeway to workout a plea deal.

But how does Rule 11 work? We will answer this question. Above all else, we will show you how to use Rule 11 to get the best results in your case.

What happens when you plead guilty to a crime?

Guilty pleas are confessions. When a person pleads guilty, he admits he did the things stated in the charging document. Likewise, he agrees he did the acts with criminal intent. On top of that, a guilty plea waives any complaints he may have against the police procedure in his case.

For example, police must give a person his Miranda warnings before they ask him questions after he is arrested. If police do not do this, then the person can file a motion that asks a judge to kick out his confession. But if a person pleads guilty without filing the motion, then he gives up his right to complain about the Miranda violation on appeal.

Finally, when a person pleads guilty, he gives up other important rights. These rights are the right to a jury trial, the right to remain silent, and the right to confront his accusers. In other words, a guilty plea locks a defendant into the case. The only open question is how much jail time or probation a person gets.

What types of pleas can you make in federal court?

Rule 11 allows for three types of pleas:

  1. Plea of Not Guilty. The person says he did not do the crime. Or stated differently, that he does not agree with the facts in the charging document. When a person pleads not guilty, then the judge sets the case for a trial.
  2. Plea of Guilty. The person admits he broke the law. When a person pleads guilty, there is no trial. Instead, the judge usually resets the case for a sentencing hearing.
  3. Plea of Nolo Contendere. In this type of plea, the person does not contest the charges. That is why it is also called a no contest plea. But he agrees to the punishment. Also, the judge can still find the person guilty. Finally, this type of plea is more common in state court than in federal court.

What happens at a Federal Plea hearing?

Several things happen at a federal plea hearing. The judge will review the following points with the defendant before the judge accepts or rejects his plea:

1. Judge will make sure the defendant is of sound mind.

First, the judge makes sure the person pleading guilty is of sound mind. This includes making sure the person is not using drugs or taking meds that can interfere with the plea process. The judge will also make sure the person is not experiencing mental health issues.

2. Review of the Defendant’s rights.

Next, the judge will go over the defendant’s rights. The judge will tell the defendant that he has the right to:

  • plead not guilty;
  • go to trial;
  • have an attorney help him with his case;
  • confront his accusers;
  • subpoena witnesses to help his case; and
  • put on evidence to fight his case.

Once the judge tells the defendant about these rights, the judge will tell the defendant that if he pleads guilty he will give up these rights.

3. Discuss the Nature of the Crime.

After that, the judge will talk about the nature of each charge he is pleading guilty to. This includes reviewing the following:

  • maximum jail time;
  • minimum jail time;
  • fine range;
  • how the court will use the 3553a factors and the guidelines to determine the sentence; and
  • length of supervised release.

4. Is the defendant pleading guilty voluntarily?

Following that, the judge will ask the person if anyone is forcing him to plead out. This is a key moment in the hearing. The judge must make sure the person is pleading guilty of his own free will. This means if the defense attorney or someone else is forcing the defendant to plead guilty, then the defendant must tell the judge.

Surprisingly, this issue comes up more often than expected. But it happens in a different context. People want to plead guilty because it usually leads to less jail time. However, people sometimes change their minds after they get the PSR.

This is because the PSR sometimes recommends a higher jail term than what the defendant hoped for. For this reason, you should request an estimate from your attorney of what your guideline range may be. This will reduce the chances of an unwanted surprise in the PSR.

The bottom line is this. Do not plead guilty to any crime unless this is what you want to do. If someone is making you plead guilty, then you need to tell the judge during the plea hearing. This is how Rule 11 protects people from being forced to plead guilty to something they did not do.

5. Immigration Consequences of Pleading Guilty.

If you are not a U.S. Citizen, then pleading guilty to a crime may cause you to lose your immigration status in the United States. This includes:

  • getting deported;
  • being denied entry into the country; and
  • losing your green card, DACA status, or other immigration benefit you may have.

Consequently, you may want to fight your case even if prosecutors have overwhelming evidence that you broke the law. This is because a guilty plea can lead to a lifetime immigration ban. If you are in this position, then make sure to talk to your attorney about your options.

6. Confirm the facts of the Plea and Review the Plea Deal.

Finally, the judge will review the plea deal or paperwork to make sure that the facts of the case fit the crime. Once all of this is complete, the judge will finish the plea hearing. Further, depending on how many defendants are pleading guilty at one time, the plea hearing can be as short as 10 to 15 minutes or longer than 2 hours.

How do you work out a plea deal in federal court?

Rule 11(c)(1) describes the plea-deal process. An attorney for the government and an attorney for the defendant can talk about a plea deal. If the defendant is representing himself, then he will negotiate directly with the government attorney. Nonetheless, the judge cannot help negotiate the plea deal.

In addition, the plea deal may allow a defendant to plead guilty to the charged crime or to a lesser included offense. Also, Rule 11 allows the following three types of plea deals.

A. Rule 11(c)(1)(A):

In this type of deal, the government agrees not to file more charges against the defendant. They may also agree to dismiss any other charges that were already filed in exchange for the person pleading out.

B. Rule 11(c)(1)(B):

Here, the government can do a couple of things. They may agree to recommend a specific jail term. Or, they may agree not to fight the jail term the defendant is requesting. However, this type of plea deal does not bind the court.

C. Rule 11(c)(1)(C):

This rule allows the government and defense to reach a binding plea deal. For example, they can agree to a specific jail term. Or they can agree that a guideline provision or policy statement does or does not apply. Critically, if the judge accepts this type of plea deal, then the court must honor the agreement.

What is a conditional plea?

A conditional plea lets a defendant fight his case on appeal after a judge denies his motion to suppress. To illustrate, if police arrest a person without probable cause, then the defendant can ask the judge to kick out the case because police violated his Fourth Amendment rights. If the trial judge denies the motion, then the defendant can enter a conditional plea of guilty.

That is to say, the person pleads guilty to the crime on one condition. If he wins his case on appeal, then when the case returns to the trial court, the person can withdraw his guilty plea. This is a major procedural right.

But to use this type of plea, you must make sure the following are true:

  1. The conditional plea must be in writing;
  2. The plea deal must clearly list the issues that will be appealed; and
  3. Both the government and the court must approve of the plea deal.

In short, this plea allows a person to get a second opinion from a higher court on a pretrial motion to suppress.

San Antonio Criminal Defense.

Rule 11 gives defendants and the government lots of room to work out a plea deal. And that makes Rule 11 a valuable tool during plea negotiations. It gives defendants different ways to move the needle in the right direction.

Defense Attorney Genaro R. Cortez.

Phone: 210-733-7575.