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December 2, 2009

Ninth Circuit rejects "en masse" plea process for illegal entry cases in Arizona

A Ninth Circuit panel today handed down an interesting ruling that seem to have the potential to upset a whole lot of federal criminal convictions in at least one district. The ruling comes in US v. Roblero-Solis, No. 08-10396 (9th Cir. Dec. 2, 2009) (available here), and here is how the opinion starts:

To accommodate the enormous number of prosecutions for illegal entry into the United States, the district court for the District of Arizona (Tucson) has adopted a procedure for the taking of pleas en masse intended to preserve the rudiments of Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 and the constitution.  We were informed by the government in this case that one magistrate judge is assigned each week full time to the handling of these cases and that in twelve months’ time the court has handled 25,000.  The procedure has been in practice for at least two years and is apparently followed in several other federal courts whose districts border on Mexico.

The problem generated by the massive caseload on the court understandably led the court to adopt a shortcut. Abstractly considered, the shortcut is not only understandable but reasonable. The shortcut, however, does not comply with Rule 11.  We cannot permit this rule to be disregarded in the name of efficiency nor to be violated because it is too demanding for a district court to observe. We act within a system maintained by the rules of procedure. We cannot dispense with the rules without setting a precedent subversive of the structure.  Accordingly, on this challenge by an intrepid federal public defender to the Tucson court’s taking of pleas en masse, we hold the procedure to be contrary to Rule 11.  We then assess the harm to the substantial rights of the six defendants before us on this appeal.

December 2, 2009 at 03:54 PM | Permalink

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