What is a Rule 11 Plea Hearing?

A Rule 11 plea hearing is where a person pleads guilty to a federal crime. In effect, the person is saying he did the crime. The end result is that a judge will find the person guilty.

Further, many people plead out hoping to get less jail time. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Regardless, if the person chooses to plead out, then Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 will apply. This rule explains in detail how plea hearings work. The text of Rule 11 is listed at the end of this post.

What happens at a federal plea hearing?

The short answer is a person pleads guilty to a federal crime. More importantly, Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 requires:

  • A person to enter a plea of either guilty–or in rare cases– a plea of no contest;
  • The judge to tell the person pleading guilty that he has certain rights;
  • More importantly, if the person pleads guilty, then he will give up those rights;
  • This includes the right to fight his case and push back on the government’s evidence;
  • In addition, the judge will tell the person the most and least amount of jail time he may get if he pleads out;
  • The judge will also ask the person if anyone forced him to plead out;
  • Finally, the judge will tell the person what could go wrong and what could go right with a plea deal.

In sum, the judge makes sure the person understands the consequences of pleading guilty to a federal crime. If the judge decides the person understands what could happen by pleading guilty and that Rule 11 is satisfied, then the judge the judge will make a choice.

The judge will either accept the plea. Or the judge may reject the plea. But in most cases, judges will accept Rule 11 pleas of guilty and plea deals. But this is not automatic.

What are the three types of pleas in a federal criminal case?

  1. Not guilty;
  2. Guilty; or
  3. No contest.

What is a Conditional Plea?

In some cases, a person may file a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence. This can happen in several circumstances. For example, if police do not give the person his Miranda warnings before they ask him questions. Or when police search or arrest a person without probable cause.

In these types of cases, the person’s attorney ask the judge for a hearing to see if this evidence can be used against him at trial. If the person loses this motion, then the evidence will come in at trial. As a result, many people will decide to plead out.

Nonetheless, the person can still plead guilty on the condition that he be allowed to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. This is a very common tactic in federal court. And Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 allows a person to do this.

Can you go to jail after a Rule 11 plea hearing?

Yes–it is possible to go to jail after a plea hearing. This happens from time to time. But it is more common for people to stay on bond after a plea hearing.

As an example, if the person is on bond, then the judge will ask the pre-trial officer if the person is following the bond rules. If he is following the rules, then the judge will likely keep the person on bond until his sentencing date.

In contrast, if the person causes problems while out on bond, then the judge may send the person to jail after the plea hearing. Common reasons a person may go to jail include:

  • Not reporting as required;
  • Testing positive for pot, cocaine, or meth; or
  • Getting arrested for a new crime.

The bottom line is to follow all the rules if you are on bond for a federal criminal case. Otherwise, the judge may lock you up after the Rule 11 plea hearing. (Of course, you can also go to jail at any time before or after the plea hearing if you break the rules of pretrial release.)

What happens after a plea hearing?

In most instances, the judge resets the case for three or four months. During this time, the probation department prepares a report. This report is important. It contains facts that may raise or lower the jail time a person gets.

After the report is complete, the probation officer will give a copy to the defense and the government. Each side then reviews the report and decides if there are any mistakes in the report. If there are no mistakes in the report, then the report will become part of the record. If there are mistakes in the report, then either side can file written objections. The judge will decide on the objections during the sentencing hearing.

Finally, in some cases, the judge will start the sentencing hearing right after the plea hearing. This happens when a person who is in jail gets “time served.” Stated differently, the person has been in jail long enough to pay for the crime. Some judges do this on low level entry cases such as 8 USC 1325 and 8 USC 1326.

How long do Rule 11 plea hearings last?

This really depends on the court and the number of defendants at the hearing. In some cases, the plea hearing can be over in 10 to 15 minutes. These are quick in and out hearings. In contrast, some plea hearings may take more than 2 hours. The key factor is the number of people in the group plea.

If there are 5 or 6 people pleading guilty at one time, then the plea hearing will go quickly. But if there are 30 to 40 people pleading guilty at one time, then the plea hearing will slow down. This is because the judge must review the paperwork for each case to make sure it is correct. With large numbers of people pleading out at one time, this really bogs down the plea process.

So what does Rule 11 say, exactly?:

Rule 11 Pleas

Rule 11.Pleas.Description.
(a)Entering a Plea.
(a)(1)In General.A defendant may plead not guilty, guilty, or (with the court's consent) nolo contendere.
(a)(2)Conditional Plea.With the consent of the court and the government, a defendant may enter a conditional plea of guilty or nolo contendere, reserving in writing the right to have an appellate court review an adverse determination of a specified pretrial motion. A defendant who prevails on appeal may then withdraw the plea.
(a)(3)Nolo Contendere Plea.Before accepting a plea of nolo contendere, the court must consider the parties' views and the public interest in the effective administration of justice.
(a)(4)Failure to Enter a Plea.If a defendant refuses to enter a plea or if a defendant organization fails to appear, the court must enter a plea of not guilty.
(b)Considering and Accepting a Guilty or Nolo Contendere Plea.
(b)(1)Advising and Questioning the Defendant.Before the court accepts a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the defendant may be placed under oath, and the court must address the defendant personally in open court. During this address, the court must inform the defendant of, and determine that the defendant understands, the following:
(A) the government's right, in prosecution for perjury or false statement, to use against the defendant any statement that the defendant gives under oath;
(B) the right to plead not guilty, or having already so pleaded, to persist in that plea;
(C) the right to a jury trial
(D) the right to be represented by counsel--and if necessary have the court appoint counsel--at trial and at every stage of the proceeding;
(E) the right at trial to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, to be protected from compelled self-incrimination, to testify and present evidence, and to compel the attendance of witnesses;
(F) the defendant's waiver of these trial rights if the court accepts a plea of guilty or nolo contendere;
(G) the nature of each charge to which the defendant is pleading;
(H) any maximum possible penalty, including imprisonment, fine, and term of supervised release;
(I) any mandatory minimum penalty;
(J) any applicable forfeiture;
(K) the court's authority to order restitution;
(L) the court's obligation to impose a special assessment;
(M) in determining a sentence, the court's obligation to calculate the applicable sentencing-guideline range and to consider that range, possible departures under the guidelines, and other sentencing factors under 18 USC [Sec.] 3553(a);
(N) the terms of any plea-agreement provision waiving the right to appeal or to collaterally attack the sentence; and
(O) that if convicted, a defendant who is not a United States citizen may be removed from the United States, denied citizenship, and denied admission to the United States in the future.
(b)(2)Ensuring That a Plea Is Voluntary.Before accepting a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the court must address the defendant personally in open court and determine that the plea is voluntary and did not result from force, threats, or promises (other than promises in a plea agreement).
(c)Plea Agreement Procedure.
(c)(1)In General.An attorney for the government and the defendant's attorney, or the defendant when proceeding pro se, may discuss and reach a plea agreement. The court must not participate in these discussions. If the defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere to either a charged offense or a lesser or related offense, the plea agreement may specify that an attorney for the government will:
(A) not bring, or will move to dismiss, other charges;
(B) recommend, or agree not to oppose the defendant's request, that a particular sentence or sentencing range is appropriate or that a particular provision of the Sentencing Guidelines, or policy statement, or sentencing factor does or does not apply (such a recommendation or request does not bind the court); or
(C) agree that a specific sentence or sentencing range is the appropriate disposition of the case, or that a particular provision of the Sentencing Guidelines, or policy statement, or sentencing factor does or does not apply (such a recommendation or request binds the court once the court accepts the plea agreement).
(c)(2)Disclosing a Plea Agreement.The parties must disclose the plea agreement in open court when the plea is offered, unless the court for good cause allows the parties to disclose the plea agreement in camera.
(c)(3)Judicial Consideration of a Plea Agreement.(A) To the extent the plea agreement is of the type of specified in Rule 11(c)(1)(A) or (C), the court may accept the agreement, reject it, or defer a decision until the court has reviewed the presentence report.
(B) To the extent the plea agreement is of the type specified in Rule 11(c)(1)(B), the court must advise that the defendant has no right to withdraw the plea if the court does not follow the recommendation or request.
(c)(4)Accepting a Plea Agreement.If the court accepts the plea agreement, it must inform the defendant that to the extent the plea agreement is of the type specified in Rule 11(c)(1)(A) or (C), the agreed disposition will be included in the judgment.
(c)(5)Rejecting a Plea Agreement.If the court rejects a plea agreement containing provisions of the type specified in Rule 11(c)(1)(A) or (C), the court must do the following on the record and in open court (or, for good cause, in camera):
(A) inform the parties that the court rejects the plea agreement;
(B) advise the defendant personally that the court is not required to follow the plea agreement and give the defendant an opportunity to withdraw the plea; and
(C) advise the defendant personally that if the plea is not withdrawn, the court may dispose of the case less favorably toward the defendant than the plea agreement contemplated.
(d)Withdrawing a Guilty or Nolo Contendere Plea.A defendant may withdraw a plea of guilty or nolo contendere:
(1) before the court accepts the plea, for any reason or no reason; or
(2) after the court accepts the plea, but before it imposes sentence if:
(A) the court rejects a plea agreement under Rule 11(c)(5); or
(B) the defendant can show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal.
(e)Finality of Guilty or Nolo Contendere Plea.After the court imposes sentence, the defendant may not withdraw a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, and the plea may be set aside only on direct appeal or collateral attack.
(f)Admissibility or Inadmissibility of a Plea, Plea Discussions, and Related Statements.The admissibility or inadmissibility of a plea, a plea discussion, and any related statement is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 410.
(g)Recording the Proceedings.The proceedings during which the defendant enters a plea must be recorded by a court reporter or by a suitable recording device. If there is a guilty plea or a nolo contendere plea, the record must include the inquiries and advice to the defendant required under Rule 11(b) or (c).
(h)Harmless Error.A variance from the requirements of this rule is harmless error if it does not affect substantial rights.
Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 states what happens during a federal plea hearing.

San Antonio Federal Criminal Defense.

Most federal criminal cases result in guilty pleas. This is because the feds usually have strong cases. But this is not always so. There maybe evidence showing you are not guilty. Or there maybe a problem with the stop or arrest that leads you to file a motion to suppress. For these reasons, you should consider your options carefully before you decide to plead guilty. Otherwise, you may paint yourself into a corner.

Law Office of Genaro R. Cortez, P.L.L.C.

730 West Hildebrand Avenue
Suite 2,
San Antonio, Texas 78212
Phone: 210-733-7575
Fax: 210-733-7578
Email: genaro.cortez@cortezlawyer.org