If you are a Missouri resident facing a federal white collar crime charge, your attorney may have discussed with you the possibility of a plea agreement. As reported by Forbes, over 90 percent of federal charge defendants choose to enter into a plea agreement rather than to take their case to trial.
Accepting a plea bargain can give you such advantages as a reduced sentence, reduced costs of what could be a lengthy trial, and the certainty of your outcome. It also, however, usually presents the following disadvantages:
- You give up your constitutional right to a jury trial.
- You must admit your guilt in open court.
- You give up the right to appeal your conviction.
- You cannot later change your mind and rescind your plea agreement.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently put those last two bullet items into question. In the case of Class v. United States, the Justices held that a defendant can later challenge his or her plea bargain conviction on appeal.
Class entered into a plea bargain wherein he pleaded guilty to having a firearm in his Jeep when he parked it on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., a no-firearm zone. He received a prison sentence of 24 days plus probation for one year. Despite this negligible sentence, Class decided to appeal his conviction on constitutional grounds, arguing the following:
- He had a valid North Carolina license for his gun and kept it locked in the Jeep’s safe.
- He did not know the Washington, D.C., laws about carrying a firearm.
- The statute under which he was convicted violated his Second Amendment rights.
- The parking lot signage violated his 14th Amendment right to due process.
- His plea agreement contained no express waiver of his right to appeal.
Bear in mind that Class did not dispute the fact that he had a firearm where the statute said he could not. In other words, he admitted that he broke the law as written. Instead, he challenged the statute’s validity as an unconstitutional exercise of governmental authority.
The appellate court denied his appeal on the grounds that his plea agreement implicitly waived his rights to a constitutional challenge. SCOTUS, however, overruled the appellate court, holding that “Class did not relinquish his right to appeal the District Court’s constitutional determinations simply by pleading guilty.”
Legal experts question the effect of this opinion on plea bargains in general, not just those pertaining to federal white collar crimes. Consequently, you should thoroughly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of any plea bargain with your attorney before accepting it. You must fully understand the likely consequences of your action. This is educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.