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Media Alerts - United States v. Martinez-Cruz
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December 4, 2013
  United States v. Martinez-Cruz
Headline: Sidestepping Supreme Court precedent and rulings of sister circuits, D.C. Circuit assigns burden of persuasion to government once defendant meets burden of production in challenging waiver of right to counsel for prior conviction.

Area of Law: Due Process Clause

Issue Presented: Whether it is permissible under the Due Process Clause to require a defendant to carry the burden of production as well as the burden of persuasion in challenging the validity of a prior conviction.

Brief Summary: Alfonso Martinez-Cruz sought to qualify for the "safety valve" in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Had he qualified, his minimum sentence would have been two and a half years shorter, but his prior conviction for a DUI prevented its application. Martinez-Cruz argued that he did not make a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to counsel with respect to the prior conviction because no one had explained the right to him and he was illiterate. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that Martinez-Cruz bore the burden of persuasion and that he failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he had not knowingly accepted his plea deal in the prior case. The district court then sentenced him to the minimum of the Guidelines range without the safety valve.

The United State Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that the Due Process Clause requires that the government shoulder the burden of persuasion once the defendant satisfactorily bears the burden of production. Recognizing a tension between the presumption of regularity in final judgments and the presumption against a waiver of counsel, the court struck a balance by establishing that once a defendant meets the burden of production and "seriously undermines the presumption of regularity," the burden shifts back to the government to show by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant validly waived counsel. The court distinguished Parke v. Raley, 506 U.S. 20 (1992), where the Supreme Court held that courts should not infer that a defendant was not advised of his rights when the record is silent, as a case in which the defendant had not met the burden of production. The D.C. Circuit also noted that, in all cases from its sister circuits cited by the government, the defendants either had not met the burden of production or had not raised the same constitutional argument. The court remanded the case to the district court to clarify that Martinez-Cruz did in fact create a reasonable inference and to give the government the opportunity to meet its burden of persuasion.

Circuit Judge Kavanaugh dissented, arguing that the Supreme Court in Parke v. Raley placed the entirety of the burden on the defendant. He argued that the majority's holding both deviates from Supreme Court precedent and creates a circuit split.

For the full text of this opinion, please visit

Panel: Kavanaugh, Edwards, and Williams.

Argument Date: September 27, 2013

Date of Issued Opinion: December 3, 2013

Docket Number: 12-3050

Decided: Reversed

Case Alert Author: Joseph T. Maher, Jr.

Counsel: Richard K. Gilbert for appellant. Nicholas P. Coleman, Ronald C. Machen Jr., and Elizabeth Trosman for appellee.

Author of Opinion: Williams

Dissent by: Kavanaugh

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elizabeth Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 12/04/2013 08:29 AM     DC Circuit  

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