Monday, December 21st, 2020

Second Circuit Rejects Rule 11 Challenge Based on District Court’s Confusing Explanation of the Mandatory Minimum on the Ground that the Circumstances Made it Unlikely that a More Precise Explanation Would Have Changed Defendant’s Decision to Plead Guilty.

In Pedro Garcia-Hernandez, No. 19-2504 (2d Cir. Dec. 18, 2020)(summary order), the Second Circuit rejected a Rule 11 claim that the guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered because the district court’s explanation of the sentence the defendant faced was confusing. The district explained at the plea colloquy that the defendant was subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and that his Guidelines range was 70 to 87 months. Applying plain error review, the Court of Appeals concluded that the district court effectively conveyed to the defendant that 10 years “was the actual and inevitable sentence,” citing United States v. Johnson, 850 F.3d 515, 524 (2d Cir. 2017). The Court relied on the following facts to conclude that there was no basis to believe that a “more precise explanation” of the sentence he faced would have affected the defendant’s decision to plead guilty: when told that the mandatory minimum was 10 years, the defendant stated that the understood; defendant and his counsel stated that they had reviewed the Pimentel letter, which specified that the mandatory minimum was higher that the Guidelines range and would apply; the PSR explained that the mandatory minimum applied in place of the Guidelines range and the defendant confirmed that he had discussed the PSR with his counsel; defense counsel’s sentencing letter asked the court to impose the 10-year mandatory minimum on the ground that it was above the Guidelines range; and just before imposing sentence, the district court told the defendant that the mandatory minimum superceded the Guidelines range.

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