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June 5, 2007

DC Circuit finds district court wrongfully participated in plea negotiations

The DC Circuit today in US v. Baker, No. 06-3115 (DC Cir. June 5, 2007) (available here), upset a conviction because the district judge was too involved in plea discussions.  Here is how the opinion begins and concludes:

Kenneth C. Baker pled guilty to a five-count indictment in federal district court, for which he received a 51-month sentence.  On appeal, Baker argues his guilty plea and sentence must be set aside because the court impermissibly and prejudicially participated in plea negotiations with him.  We find Baker's arguments persuasive and therefore vacate the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings....

We are convinced by our review of the entire record that the district court here had only good intentions in attempting to facilitate a plea agreement initially believed to be advantageous to all involved, did not intend to coerce an involuntary plea, and attempted to remedy its error during the plea colloquy with Baker. Nonetheless, Rule 11's strict prohibition exists because judicial participation in plea discussions is inherently coercive.

June 5, 2007 at 11:31 AM | Permalink

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