Monday, August 14, 2006

Right to Plead Guilty

United States v. Rafael Rea-Beltran, No. 04-2305 (August 10, 2006): Mr. Beltran entered a plea to illegal reentry by an alien, but the district judge set aside his plea. Mr. Beltran stated to the court that he believed he had permission to reenter the country. He went to trial on this charge, as well as an additional charge, which would have been dismissed under the terms of the plea agreement. On appeal, he challenged the district judge’s refusal to accept his guilty plea.

The Court acknowledged that there is no constitutional right to plead guilty. But under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, the district court cannot act arbitrarily in rejecting a guilty plea. To comply with this duty, the court must state a "sound reason" for rejecting a plea. In this case, the district court did not have a sound reason. It rejected the plea because of the mistaken notion that Mr. Beltran would have a defense if he believed that he had the Attorney General’s permission to reenter the country. In fact, said the Seventh Circuit, the crime is committed if there has been no permission to reenter. A mistaken belief that permission has been given is not a defense. Hence, the district court had no sound reason for rejecting the plea.