Thursday, September 06, 2007

Defendant Cannot Withdraw Plea "Provisionally" Accepted by District Court

US v. Battle: Battle was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and decided to plead guilty. At his guilty plea hearing, the district court "provisionally accepted" Battle's guilty plea "pending receipt" of the PSR. The district court deferred "final acceptance" of the plea agreement and "final adjudication of guilt" until the parties reviewed the PSR. Battle moved to withdraw his plea after reviewing the PSR based on the high sentence recommended therein. The district court denied the motion under Rule 11's "fair and just reason" standard and imposed the Guideline minimum and statutory maximum sentence of 120 months.

On appeal, Battle argued that the district court applied the wrong standard to his plea withdrawal motion because the plea had not actually been accepted at the time he made the motion. Noting this was a case of first impression in the Fourth Circuit, the court, 2-1, rejected Battle's argument. The court held that the district court accepted Battle's guilty plea at his plea hearing, provisional language notwithstanding, noting that under Rule 11 pleas are "inherently conditional" and not final until sentence is imposed. Allowing withdrawal for any reason would undermine the importance of the plea colloquy. Judge Gregory dissented, arguing that the district court's clear language at the plea hearing showed that the plea had not been accepted and thus Battle had the right to withdraw it for any reason prior to sentencing.

The court also rejected several minor sentencing arguments made by Battle.

No comments: