This case concerns Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Crim- inal Procedure, which governs guilty pleas. Two provi- sions of that rule are key here. The first, Rule 11(c)(1), instructs that “[t]he court must not participate in [plea] discussions.” The second, Rule 11(h), states: “A variance from the requirements of th[e] rule is harmless error if it does not affect substantial rights.” Rule 52(a), which covers trial court errors generally, similarly prescribes: “Any error . . . that does not affect substantial rights must be disregarded.”
Anthony Davila, respondent here, entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to defraud the United States by filing false income tax returns. He maintains that he did so because a U. S. Magistrate Judge, at a pre-plea in camera hearing and in flagrant violation of Rule 11(c)(1), told him his best course, given the strength of the Government’s case, was to plead guilty. Three months later, Davila entered a plea on advice of counsel. The hearing on Davila’s plea, con- ducted by a U. S. District Judge, complied in all respects with Rule 11.
The question presented is whether, as the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held, the violation of Rule 11(c)(1) by the Magistrate Judge warranted automatic vacatur of Davila’s guilty plea. We hold that Rule 11(h) controls. Under the inquiry that Rule instructs, vacatur of the plea is not in order if the record shows no prejudice to Davila’s decision to plead guilty.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Supreme Court reverses 11th in Davila v. United States
Apropos of the previous post dealing with the 11th Circuit, the Supreme Court decided Davila today, 9-0: