In Re Benvin

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 06-29-2015
  • Case #: 14-72181
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam Opinion; Circuit Judges O'Scannlain, Berzon, and Bybee
  • Full Text Opinion

It is a violation of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1) for a district court to become involved in guilty plea agreements.

Marcilin Benvin was indicted on various fraud charges. Parties negotiated a guilty plea agreement (“GPA”), wherein Benvin would plead guilty to one count of embezzlement and theft, pay restitution of $260,000, and dismissal of the remaining charges. However, the district court questioned the terms of the GPA, specifically whether the restitution was binding upon the court. At a new hearing, the district court suggested the GPA terms should include restitution of $3 million and to make it binding by the court. It further stated it would allow the GPA to be entered, but it would not dismiss the other counts. The district court ultimately denied the GPA and set case for trial. Benvin appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed whether a writ of mandamus was proper, which would order the lower court not to condition its acceptance of the GPA. First, the panel concluded that the district court erred by participating in the GPA discussions. The panel explained that when a court goes beyond providing reasons for rejecting a GPA and comments on the hypothetical terms it would or would not accept, it becomes involved in the negotiations and thus violates Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11. United States v. Kyle. Since the district court suggested that the GPA should include the $3 million restitution terms and imposed conditions for an approval of the GPA, the court impermissibly involved itself in plea discussions, thus having violated Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1). The panel further found mandamus was appropriate and reassignment of a district judge must occur to preserve justice. GRANTED.

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