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Media Alerts - Sixth Circuit: defendant can withdraw guilty plea for any reason if court defers plea acceptance
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June 22, 2017
  Sixth Circuit: defendant can withdraw guilty plea for any reason if court defers plea acceptance
Headline: Sixth Circuit holds that defendant can withdraw guilty plea for any reason if court defers plea acceptance.

Case: United States v. Andrews

Area of law: Criminal procedure, criminal law

Issue presented: Has a district court accepted a defendant's guilty plea for purposes of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(d) when it defers acceptance of the plea until after it reviews the presentence report?

Brief summary: Andrews entered a plea agreement, which included a recommended sentence, for various drug-related offenses. At the change-of-plea hearing, the district court held that it would wait to accept the plea and impose the recommended sentence until after it received the presentence report. Before this happened, Andrews moved to withdraw his guilty plea under FRCP 11(d)(1), which allows a defendant to do so for any reason before the district court accepts the plea. The district court denied his withdrawal motion, stating that it had already accepted Andrews's guilty plea at the hearing. On appeal, Andrews argued that the district court had not officially accepted his plea at the hearing. On two issues of first impression, the Sixth Circuit first held that de novo is the proper standard to review whether a district court accepted a defendant's guilty plea. The Sixth Circuit then held that a district court's explicit decision to defer acceptance of a defendant's guilty plea means that the plea has not been accepted for purposes of FRCP 11(d). But the Court declined to establish specific steps that a district court must take in order to accept a defendant's guilty plea.

Extended summary: After being charged with various drug-related crimes, Andrews ultimately agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. The district court held a change-of-plea hearing, during which it followed the proper procedure under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b) for determining that Andrews's plea was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. At the end of the hearing, the district court stated that it would typically "go ahead and accept the plea and make a finding of guilty" at that point; however, since Andrews's plea agreement included a recommended sentence, the district court wanted to review the presentence report first. Once the district court had the results of the report, it would schedule a second hearing. Before the district court held this second hearing, Andrews filed a motion to withdraw his plea. He argued that he was permitted to do so under Rule 11(d)(1), which allows a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea for any reason if he does so before the court accepts his plea. The district court denied Andrews's motion, finding that it had accepted his guilty plea at the hearing. And after a court accepts a defendant's guilty plea, he can only withdraw it if he proves a fair and just reason for doing so under Rule 11(d)(2)(B). The district court held that Andrews failed to demonstrate a fair and just reason why his plea should be withdrawn, and it ultimately imposed the terms of the plea agreement.

Andrews appealed, claiming that the district court never actually accepted his guilty plea during the hearing and that he therefore should have been able to withdraw his plea for any reason under Rule 11(d)(1).

The Sixth Circuit first addressed which standard of review it should use to decide whether the district court had accepted Andrews's guilty plea. Since the issue was one of first impression in the Sixth Circuit, the Court surveyed the opinions of other circuit courts and found that at least three (the Eighth, Fifth, and D.C. Circuits) use the de novo standard of review for this issue. Additionally, the Court reasoned that this issue presents no factual disputes, and the only question is whether the district court's words and actions during the hearing fit the definition of acceptance as used in Rule 11(d). Therefore, the Sixth Circuit held that the issue whether a guilty plea was accepted by a district court is a question of law subject to de novo review.

The Sixth Circuit then analyzed under what circumstances a district court has accepted a defendant's guilty plea, which was also an issue of first impression in this circuit. Rule 11(b) provides an enumerated list of topics that a district court must discuss with the defendant before it may accept his guilty plea. However, there are no rules that specifically state what a court must do to officially accept the plea. The Sixth Circuit found that there was a consensus among other circuits that a district court's adherence to Rule 11(b) creates a presumption that the court accepted the defendant's guilty plea. But this presumption is rebutted when the district court explicitly decides to defer its acceptance of the plea. Following the other circuits' reasoning, the Sixth Circuit ultimately held that a district court's explicit deferral of acceptance means that a defendant's guilty plea has not been accepted under Rule 11(d). However, the Court declined to establish any specific steps that a district court must take to officially accept a guilty plea.

In Andrews's case, the district court had properly covered all the information required by Rule 11(b), creating a presumption of acceptance. But the district court's statements that it would have to hold a second hearing after it had received the presentence report meant that an additional step must occur before the district court would accept Andrews's guilty plea and impose the recommended sentence. The Sixth Circuit found that this constituted an explicit deferral of acceptance, meaning that the district court had not accepted Andrews's plea for Rule 11(d) purposes at the hearing. And since the district court had not accepted Andrews's guilty plea at the hearing, he had the right to withdraw his plea for any reason when he filed his withdrawal motion. The Sixth Circuit therefore remanded the case back to the district court and declined to rule on the other collateral issues Andrews had raised.

Panel: Circuit Judges Martha Craig Daughtrey, Karen Nelson Moore, and Julia Smith Gibbons.

Date of issued opinion: May 23, 2017.

Docket number: 16-3130

Decided: Reversed and remanded.

Counsel: Gregory Charles Sassé, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Kimberly Robinson, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Gregory Charles Sassé, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Kimberly Robinson, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

Author of opinion: Circuit Judge Julia Smith Gibbons.

Case alert author: Andrea Muroto Bilabaye, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

Case alert circuit supervisor: Professor Mark Cooney.

Link to the case: http://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.go...ns.pdf/17a0109p-06.pdf

Edited: 06/27/2017 at 11:23 AM by Mark Cooney

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 06/22/2017 03:07 PM     6th Circuit  

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