Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Class v. United States, Docket No. 16-424

Plea agreement: Waiver: Appeal (direct): Constitutional claims: Harlan, J.: Ames, J.:

Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U. S. 21 (1974)

Menna v. New York, 423 U. S. 61 (1975) (per curiam)

United States v. Broce, 488 U. S. 563 (1989)

A guilty plea, by itself, does not bar a federal criminal defendant from challenging the constitutionality of his statute of conviction on direct appeal.

In this case, Class neither expressly nor implicitly waived his constitutional claims by pleading guilty. As this Court understands them, the claims at issue here do not contradict the terms of the in­dictment or the written plea agreement and they can be resolved “on the basis of the existing record.” Broce, supra, at 575. Class chal­lenges the Government’s power to criminalize his (admitted) conduct and thereby calls into question the Government’s power to “constitu­tionally prosecute” him. Ibid. (quoting Menna, supra, at 61–62, n. 2). A guilty plea does not bar a direct appeal in these circumstances.

Fifty years ago this Court directly addressed a similar claim (a claim that the statute of conviction was unconsti­tutional). And the Court stated that a defendant’s “plea of guilty did not . . . waive his previous constitutional claim.” Haynes v. United States, 390 U. S. 85, 87, n. 2 (1968). Though Justice Harlan’s opinion for the Court in Haynes offered little explanation for this statement, sub­sequent decisions offered a rationale that applies here.

(…) The Court noted that a guilty plea bars appeal of many claims, including some “antecedent constitutional viola­tions” related to events (say, grand jury proceedings) that had “occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea.” (quoting Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U. S. 258, 266– 267 (1973)). While Tollett claims were “of constitutional dimension,” the Court explained that “the nature of the underlying constitutional infirmity is markedly different” from a claim of vindictive prosecution, which implicates “the very power of the State” to prosecute the defendant. Blackledge, 417 U. S., at 30. Accordingly, the Court wrote that “the right” Perry “asserts and that we today accept is the right not to be haled into court at all upon the felony charge” since “the very initiation of the proceedings” against Perry “operated to deprive him due process of law.” Id., at 30–31.

(…) The Court held that “a plea of guilty to a charge does not waive a claim that—judged on its face—the charge is one which the State may not constitutionally prosecute.” Menna, 423 U. S., at 63, and n. 2. Menna’s claim amounted to a claim that “the State may not convict” him “no matter how validly his factual guilt is established.” Ibid. Menna’s “guilty plea, therefore, did not bar the claim.”

These holdings reflect an understanding of the nature of guilty pleas which, in broad outline, stretches back nearly 150 years. In 1869 Justice Ames wrote for the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts: “The plea of guilty is, of course, a confession of all the facts charged in the indictment, and also of the evil intent imputed to the defendant. It is a waiver also of all merely technical and formal objections of which the defendant could have availed himself by any other plea or motion. But if the facts alleged and admitted do not constitute a crime against the laws of the Commonwealth, the defendant is entitled to be dis­charged.” Commonwealth v. Hinds, 101 Mass. 209, 210.

(…) As an initial matter, a valid guilty plea “forgoes not only a fair trial, but also other accompanying constitutional guarantees.” Ruiz, 536 U. S., at 628–629. While those “simultaneously” relinquished rights include the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, the jury trial right, and the right to confront accusers, McCarthy v. United States, 394 U. S. 459, 466 (1969), they do not include “a waiver of the privileges which exist beyond the confines of the trial.” Mitchell v. United States, 526 U. S. 314, 324 (1999). Here, Class’ statutory right directly to appeal his conviction “cannot in any way be characterized as part of the trial.” Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U. S. 156, 165 (2012).

In more recent years, we have reaffirmed the Menna-Blackledge doctrine and refined its scope.

In sum, the claims at issue here do not fall within any of the categories of claims that Class’ plea agreement forbids him to raise on direct appeal. They challenge the Gov­ernment’s power to criminalize Class’ (admitted) conduct. They thereby call into question the Government’s power to “constitutionally prosecute” him. Broce, supra, at 575 (quoting Menna, supra, at 61–62, n. 2). A guilty plea does not bar a direct appeal in these circumstances.

We hold that Rodney Class may pursue his constitutional claims on direct appeal.

(U.S.S.C., Feb. 21, 2018, Class v. United States, Docket No. 16-424, J. Breyer)

L'appel direct n'est pas d'emblée exclu à l'encontre d'un "plea agreement" : le condamné pour une infraction fédérale peut faire valoir de la sorte l'inconstitutionnalité (fédérale) de sa condamnation (sauf renonciation, intégrée au "plea", à ces moyens de rang constitutionnel).

Toutefois, même de rang constitutionnel, certains moyens pourront être considérés comme indisponibles du fait du "plea" (comme p. ex. le droit à une procédure par le biais de l'intervention du Grand Jury, le droit de ne pas s'incriminer soi-même, le droit au Jury, le droit de confronter ceux qui déposent contre soi). Mais le "plea" n'empêchera pas le condamné de faire valoir des moyens qui contestent la compétence de l'état de poursuivre pénalement en l'espèce, donc sa compétence d'initier la poursuite pénale (laquelle serait ainsi contraire au principe de "due process of law"). L'accusé ne peut donc pas renoncer valablement à des droits qui se situent au-delà des limites du procès lui-même.

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