JUDGE REFUSES TO ACCEPT PLEA BARGAIN WITH APPEAL WAIVER THAT RAILROADS DEFENDANTS TO PLEAD GUILTY

This blog recently noted that the Florida Bar is set to release an ethics opinion that will re-define some appeal waiver provisions in plea agreements as unethical, something every Defendant and most Criminal Defense Lawyers in Clearwater should applaud. Now a Federal Judge has refused to accept a plea waiver that limits a Defendant’s right to appeal unless the specific facts of a case warrant a waiver provision being included.
Here are excerpts from the Judge’s opinion:

Marat needed a fair plea bargain with a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Lawyer in Largo, Clearwater and Tampa Bay Florida
Fair  Plea Bargains Not a Bath

The pervasive waiver of individual rights has fundamentally altered the function of the courts. The act of judging, once central to the determination of guilt or innocence, has been shunted to the margins. 

A defendant’s “guilt” is, more often than not, preordained by the grand jury’s indictment. To the extent judges actually participate in the criminal process, the push is to relegate us to approving or disapproving proposed plea bargains and, unless the plea contains a negotiated sentence, determining an appropriate sentence.
A rational defendant, even if innocent, may plead guilty to a lesser offense in order to minimize the risk of prosecution. Each plea bargain, therefore, and its concomitant prioritization of efficiency at the expense of the individual exercise of constitutional rights or the exercise of judicial responsibility, requires close scrutiny. 

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s holding that the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines are merely advisory, not mandatory, see United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 247 (2005), no circuit court has revisited the enforceability of appellate waivers. Sentencing, post-Booker, requires a trial court to consider context and to apply criteria rather than perform a mechanical or clerical entry of a matrixed judgment…
The responsibility of appellate review is to decide how well the sentencing judge has established the sentence within this described discipline. That is fundamentally dissimilar to the pre-Booker function of determining whether an arithmetic calculation has been executed correctly. Rather, reviewing sentences under an abuse of discretion standard is a complex inquiry meant to assure that the judicial administration of justice is relevant to the values and expectations of society.

As much as anything it’s clear that the Judge is discouraged by the disproportionate power of prosecutors in a system that has become unhinged, where the a defendant’s guilt is “preordained by the grand jury’s indictment,” and where  “…the push is to relegate us to approving or disapproving proposed plead bargains….” Florida Judges should take this Federal Judge’s opinion to heart by taking power into their own hands away from overzealous prosecutors and shaking the system by delivering fair and just sentences in every case before them. At least one Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney thinks it’s Judges not prosecutors who should be sentencing defendants.

FEDERAL PLEA AGREEMENT WAIVER OF APPEAL BITES THE HAND THAT CREATED IT

Federal Criminal Law attorneys often lament the lack of real bargaining power in plea agreements between the Government and Defendants in the Middle District of Florida – and in the case below the Southern District of Florida – often resulting in lopsided plea agreements with bloated provisions which require Defendants to waive their right to appeal among other unsavory actions. Usually, the result is catastrophic for an effective federal appeal should there be any subsequent sentencing issues in need of resoulution. In the case below the waiver of appeal in a Plea Agreement bites the Governments hand allowing the 11the Court of Appeals to reject the Government’s attempt to increase the Defendant’s sentence upon appeal.

United States v. Arthur Smith, No. 10–15044 

( September 7, 2011) Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida Panel: Tjoflat, Carnes, and Fay, Circuit Judges. Carnes, Circuit Judge: Affirmed Writing that “sentence appeal waivers serve interests of the judiciary as well as interests of the government and defendants,” the Eleventh Circuit yesterday refused to allow the government to withdraw its previously filed brief – in which it had argued that appellant Smith’s appeal waiver applied to preclude relief – and refused the government’s request to vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing under the Court’s recent decision in United States v. Rojas, 645 F.3d 1234 (11th Cir. 2011). The Court held hold that claims under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, like any other type of sentence claim, can be waived by a knowing and voluntary appeal waiver, noting that “a waiver would be worthless if it covered only issues that lacked merit.” Because it found that Appellant Smith’s appeal waiver was knowing and voluntary, it affirmed his sentence. The full text of the decision can be found here: 
http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/201015044.pdf 


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