Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Criminal Law - Plea Deals and Collateral Consequences - Tenth Circuit Holds That Defendant Need Not Be Informed of Collateral Consequences before Pleading No Contest

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Criminal Law - Plea Deals and Collateral Consequences - Tenth Circuit Holds That Defendant Need Not Be Informed of Collateral Consequences before Pleading No Contest

Article excerpt

CRIMINAL LAW--PLEA DEALS AND COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES--TENTH CIRCUIT HOLDS THAT DEFENDANT NEED NOT BE INFORMED OF COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES BEFORE PLEADING NO CONTEST.--United States v. Muhammad, 747 F.3d 1234 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 2741 (2014).

Because of the overwhelming predominance of plea deals, (1) most criminal defendants never enjoy the constitutional protections enshrined at trial. Instead, the experiences of many defendants in our criminal justice system are shaped by stringent sentencing guidelines that enhance the power of prosecutors during plea-deal negotiations. (2) When plea deals are brought before the courts, the judicial focus centers on the defendant's knowledge of potential jail terms and fines instead of on her knowledge of a conviction's collateral consequences. (3) These conditions intertwine to fashion a justice system in which many defendants waive vital trial rights without full awareness of the repercussions of their actions. (4) In Brady v. United States, (5) the Supreme Court required that a criminal defendant be "fully aware of the direct consequences" of a plea in order for it to be valid under the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. (6) Lower courts have interpreted this statement to mean that defendants have a constitutional right to knowledge of the direct 3/4 but not collateral 3/4 consequences of their plea. (7) Recently, in United States v. Muhammad, (8) the Tenth Circuit held that certain consequences, including difficulty obtaining credit, employment, federal financial aid, and Section 8 housing, were collateral and therefore a guilty plea could be knowing and voluntary without awareness of those consequences. (9) While Muhammad relied on circuit precedent, the strength of that precedent may have been called into question by Padilla v. Kentucky, (10) a 2010 case in which the Supreme Court held that defense counsel had been deficient under the Sixth Amendment by failing to advise his client that a guilty plea would result in automatic deportation. (11) In light of Padilla, the Muhammad court should have taken the opportunity to reassess Tenth Circuit precedent concerning collateral consequences.

On September 5, 2012, Sevgi Muhammad was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma on counts of mail fraud, making a false statement, and stealing public money. (12) Muhammad, who emigrated from Turkey, received rent subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development based on allegedly false statements in her application that she was not receiving any income. (13) She entered a plea of no contest to one count of making a false statement in exchange for the government dropping the other counts and agreeing not to oppose a sentence of probation. (14) Before accepting the plea, the district court verified Muhammad's familiarity with the indictment and the plea agreement as well as her understanding of the Turkish interpreters. (15) After also confirming her understanding of the rights she was waiving, and her knowledge of a potential five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine, the district court accepted the plea. (16) The defendant later moved to withdraw the plea before the sentencing hearing, arguing that the plea was not knowingly made because she did not understand that entering a no-contest plea meant she would be found guilty. (17) After holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court determined that Muhammad had known that she would be found guilty when she entered a no-contest plea. (18) The judge then denied her motion to withdraw her plea, stating that the plea had been knowing and voluntary, (19) and sentenced her to three years' probation and $1698 in restitution. (20) Muhammad appealed, arguing that her plea was not knowing and voluntary based on the undisputed fact that she had not been informed that conviction would make it difficult for her to obtain credit, employment, federal financial aid, and Section 8 housing, as well as preclude her from owning a gun and make her future testimony in court suspect. …

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