September 1, 2015

Tenth Circuit: Unconditional Guilty Plea not Knowing and Voluntary Where Court Incorrectly Told Defendant He Would Still Have Right to Appeal

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Avila on Wednesday, August 21, 2013.

Ramiro Avila was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. After the district court denied his motion to suppress, Avila entered an unconditional guilty plea to the charge. Avila sought to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. Because Avila entered an unconditional guilty plea, the Tenth Circuit considered whether Avila’s plea was made knowingly and voluntarily. Avila contended that his plea was not knowing and voluntary because it was induced by the district court’s statement that he would “still have a right to an appeal” if the court accepted his plea. Additionally, the record did not show that the government  made any statements that Avila’s right to appeal would be compromised, or that his attorney properly advised him he would lose his right to appeal.

The court held that when a court chooses to instruct a defendant that he has a right to appeal following the entry of an unconditional guilty plea, the court materially misinforms the defendant regarding the consequences of his plea when it fails further to advise him that the plea may limit that right. Under such circumstances, if the court tells the defendant without qualification that he has a right to appeal, a defendant’s plea is not knowing and voluntary.

The court specifically did not hold that a district court must advise a defendant concerning his right to appeal following the entry of an unconditional guilty plea. It did, however, suggest the Rules Committee “consider revising the rules to require the district court to advise a defendant, at least in a general way, that a guilty plea may prevent him from raising certain issues on appeal.”

The court vacated Avila’s conviction and remand the case with directions for the district court to vacate its sentence and allow Avila to withdraw his guilty plea.

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