Reversal of a Guilty Plea under Federal Law
In 2006, Zacarias Moussaoui was handed a lifetime sentence by a federal court when he pled guilty to conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks. As he was disappointed about not getting executed, he moved to withdraw or “reverse” his guilty plea and go to trial. However, the judge denied his motion, because under Rule 32(d) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the court may permit a reversal of a guilty plea only before a sentence or other “disposition” is imposed. He was too late, and the judgment stood.
Federal law allows the reversal of a guilty plea before a final judgment upon a showing by the defendant of “any fair and just reason.” Moussaoui claimed he did not understand the American legal system at the time – that American jurors would apply the law in a fair and impartial manner. However, a misunderstanding of future consequences will not reverse a guilty plea – only a misunderstanding of charges against him or the factual basis for those charges.
Rule 32(d) works together with Rule 11 regarding the entry of pleas. Rule 11 requires the court to address the defendant personally, to determine that the defendant understands the charges, the possible penalties, and the waiver of right to trial. It requires that the court inform the defendant of his right to a competent attorney, that his answers may be used against him, and his right to a verbatim record of the plea. If these factors are not there, the guilty plea may be reversed.
Rule 11 also requires the court to determine that the plea is voluntary and not the result of threats, force, or promises separate from the plea. For example, a threat to use mace if the defendant does not sign the papers will enable a reversal of a guilty plea.
Finally, Rule 11 requires that the court satisfy itself that there is a factual basis for the guilty plea. For example, if someone charged with murder pleads guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, the guilty plea may be reversed where there’s no proof of passionate killing.
Consult a Lawyer - Present Your Case Now!
Last Modified: 06-26-2013 02:47 PM PDT
Did you find this article informative?