Eighth Circuit Enforces Plea Proffer Waiver Under FRE 410

The trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to exclude his incriminating plea statements from trial, since the defendant had knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights in the plea agreement to exclude his statements in the event of a breach and was advised of his maximum sentence, notwithstanding erroneous advice given by defense counsel concerning his sentence as a career offender, in United States v. Quiroga, 554 F.3d 1150 (8th Cir. Feb. 9, 2009) (No. 07-3093)

The Supreme Court has held that the FRE 410 prohibition against the introduction of plea negotiation statements may be waived so long as waiver is knowing, voluntary and intelligent. United States v. Mezzanatto, 513 U.S. 196, 200 (1998). If the defendant is allowed to withdraw his plea based on ineffective sentencing advice by defense counsel, can incriminating plea statement be admitted under FRE 410? The Eighth Circuit recently confronted this issue and concluded the plea statements were admissible because the plea agreement, including a waiver provision, was knowingly and voluntarily entered.

In the case, defendant Quiroga initially pled guilty to one count of possessing with intent to distribute methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a playground. Subsequently, the court granted his motion to withdraw his plea, after he argued his counsel was ineffective in failing to advise him about a sentence as a career offender. See United States v. Marcos-Quiroga, 478 F. Supp. 2d 1114 (N.D. Iowa 2007). Before trial, the trial court denied his motion in limine to exclude his incriminating plea statements, under FRE 410, which generally bars the introduction of pleas, plea discussions, and related statements under certain circumstances. The court determined that he had waived his FRE 410 rights under the plea agreement. The original plea agreement included the following term:

If the defendant violates any term or condition of this plea agreement, in any respect, the entire agreement will be deemed to have been breached . . . . If the defendant does breach this agreement, he faces the following consequences: (1) all testimony and other information he has provided at any time to attorneys, employees or law enforcement officers of the government, to the court, or to the federal grand jury, may and will be used against him in any prosecution or proceeding . . . .
Quiroga, 554 F.3d at 1154. The defendant had breached his plea agreement by withdrawing his plea. He then pled guilty conditionally, reserving an appeal of the denial of his motion in limine and another motion to suppress. He received a 292 month prison sentence as a career offender, and appealed.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to exclude his incriminating plea statements. The defendant did not contest the finding of the trial court that he had breached his plea agreement by withdrawing his plea. The issue was whether his plea agreement was knowingly and voluntarily entered, including the waiver provision. The defendant argued “that because his attorney gave incorrect advice that he would not be classified as a career offender under the advisory guidelines, he did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into the plea agreement or execute the waiver contained within the agreement.” Quiroga, 554 F.3d at 1155. The Eighth Circuit found this claim unpersuasive since “inaccurate advice of counsel about the sentencing guidelines or likely punishment does not render involuntary a defendant’s decision to plead guilty, so long as the defendant is informed of the maximum possible sentence permitted by statute and the court’s ability to sentence within that range.” Id. at __. The plea agreement included the maximum sentence and noted the defendant had “no right to withdraw his guilty plea if the sentence imposed is other than he hoped for or anticipated.” The circuit concluded:

These admonitions were sufficient to advise Quiroga that his plea agreement and the contemplated guilty plea could result in a sentence ranging up to the statutory maximum term of life imprisonment. Under our precedents, Quiroga’s misunderstanding about the application of the career offender guideline did not render the plea agreement and its waiver of rights under Rule 410 unknowing or involuntary.
Id. at __; see also United States v. Young, 223 F.3d 905, 909-10 (8th Cir. 2000) (“We are satisfied that, when Young signed the plea agreement, he was aware of the benefits he was securing, the rights he was foregoing, and the consequences of breaching the agreement. We find no evidence that he entered into the agreement involuntarily or unknowingly. Thus, the government is entitled to the benefit of its bargain and may use the affidavit in its case against Young.”), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1168 (2001).

Further Analysis Of Quiroga
In The March Review

More details and commentary on the Quiroga case will be available in the March issue of the Federal Evidence Review , Volume 6, No. 3. Information on Subscriptions available here.


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