Professor Doug Berman wrote a must-read post on his blog yesterday about a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that discusses Fast Track Plea Agreements. The case is United States vs. Morales-Heredia. Click here for a link to the opinion.
WHAT IS A FAST-TRACK PLEA AGREEMENT?
Fast-track plea agreements were created to deal with the large number of federal criminal immigration cases along the southwestern border. This program has since been expanded to all qualifying defendants prosecuted in the United States. Click here to read the memo authorizing nation-wide fast track agreements.
The fast-track program encourages qualifying defendants to plead guilty early in exchange for lighter sentence. The Government benefits from fast-track agreements because it streamlines the criminal litigation process, i.e., it reduces the government’s workload.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE GOVERNMENT BREACHES THE PLEA-AGREEMENT?
The Morales-Heredia opinion provides the template for determining when a fast-track plea agreement is breached–and more importantly the proper remedy that should be applied for the breach under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C).
In short-defense counsel should object to the breach of the plea agreement promptly. If he or she does object and establishes that a breach occurred, then the defendant should be allowed to have his conviction set aside and proceed to trial as if he never entered a plea of guilty. Moreover, the defendant should also be allowed to proceed before a different judge.
Note–this is the opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit may or may not follow this opinion.
WHY IS THIS CASE IMPORTANT?
This case is important because it discusses how a fast-track plea agreement works and how the government may breach the agreement.
If you are charged with a criminal immigration offense–you should speak with your defense attorney to see if you qualify for a fast-track plea agreement. (Beware–some courts disfavor these agreements.) You should also discuss what your remedy is if the Government breaches this agreement.
GENARO R. CORTEZ