Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Pleas, Plain Language and Precedent: Applicability of Rules 11(f) and 31(e) to Criminal Forfeiture Provisions

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Pleas, Plain Language and Precedent: Applicability of Rules 11(f) and 31(e) to Criminal Forfeiture Provisions

Article excerpt


In United States v. Libretti,(1) the United States Supreme Court held that the factual basis requirement of Rule 11(f) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure does not apply to a forfeiture provision of a guilty plea. In addition, the Court clarified the standard for what constitutes an effective waiver of a defendant's Rule 31(e) right to a special jury verdict.(2)

This Note examines the purposes of Rules 11(f) and 31(e) and the significant role that each plays in securing the rights of criminal defendants during the pleading process. This Note further analyzes the Court's holding regarding the applicability of both rules to a plea agreement containing a forfeiture provision. This Note then argues that the Court properly concluded that the plain language, precedents and congressional intent show that neither Rule is applicable to a forfeiture provision included in a plea agreement. However, by summarily dismissing the defendant's claims that forfeiture requires a heightened procedural standard, the Supreme Court failed to adequately address the policy considerations behind forfeiture provisions contained in plea agreements.(3)



Rule 11 (f) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that "[n]otwithstanding the acceptance of a plea of guilty, the court should not enter a judgment upon such plea without making such inquiry as shall satisfy it that there is a factual basis for the plea."(4) The Federal Rules Committee enacted Rule 11 primarily to codify existing common law on pleas of guilty, not guilty, and nolo contendere(5) and to reiterate the court's duty to "ascertain that [a] plea of guilty is intelligently and voluntarily made."(6) Reiterating the original purpose of Rule 11 to ensure that defendants' pleas are intelligent and voluntary, the 1966 Amendment adopting section (f) provides general guidelines as to what measures a court should take in order to determine the accuracy of a defendant's plea.(7) Neither the Federal Rules Committee nor the Supreme Court has made any substantive changes to Rule 11 (f) since its adoption through the 1966 Amendment.(8)

1. The Supreme Court's Interpretation of Rule 11(f)

In Libretti, the Supreme Court interpreted the applicability of Rule 11 (f) to a guilty plea containing a criminal forfeiture provision.(9) However, in examining the applicability of Rule 11 (f) to guilty pleas in general, the Supreme Court has emphasized the important role that Rule 11 (f) plays in ensuring that defendants make knowing, voluntary and intelligent guilty pleas.(10) Shortly after the 1966 Amendment to Rule 11, the Court examined Rule 11 in the context of a plea agreement made by a defendant charged with tax evasion.(11) Emphasizing the serious nature of a guilty plea, the Court explained that a guilty plea is "an admission of all the elements of a formal criminal charge" and by pleading guilty a defendant "waives several constitutional rights."(12) The Court further held that the consequences of a trial court's failure to comply with provisions of Rule 11 were that the reviewing court could set aside the plea, and remand the case in order to provide the defendant with an opportunity to "plead anew."(13)

The Supreme Court has historically recognized the important role that Rule 11 (f) plays in protecting the rights of criminal defendants who plead guilty.(14) Thus, the source of contention in Libretti is determining what a court should consider as being part of a "plea of guilty."(15) The Court has construed a "plea of guilty" as containing two components: the first component consists of "a defendant's admission of guilt of a substantive criminal offense as charged in an indictment" and the second includes a defendant's "waiver of the right to a jury determination on that charge."(16) One of the disputed Rule 11 (f) issues that surfaced in Libretti is whether a defendant's stipulated forfeiture of assets contained in a guilty plea constitutes a "substantive criminal offense" and whether it must be subjected to a factual basis inquiry. …

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