Should the prosecutor in your Tennessee federal white-collar crime case offer you a favorable plea bargain, it may be in your best interests to accept it. Why? Because as Forbes recently reported, nearly 90 percent of federal defendants do, in fact, opt for a plea agreement instead of going to trial.
You should remember, however, that even though a plea agreement may be your best choice, it also carries with it several downsides, including the following:
- You relinquish your constitutional right to a trial by a jury of your peers.
- You must plead guilty in open court.
- You usually cannot later revoke your plea agreement if you change your mind about having signed it.
- You usually give up your right to appeal.
While plea agreements historically have included the above-listed negatives, convicted white-collar defendants recently got new hope regarding their appellate rights from the U.S. Supreme Court via a case entitled Class v. United States. In this case, the Justices determined that you can appeal your conviction if you attack the plea bargain on constitutional grounds.
This is exactly what Mr. Class did after he accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to carrying a gun in his Jeep at the time he parked it in a Washington, D.C., parking lot, a no firearm zone. He attacked his plea bargain and subsequent conviction on the following grounds:
- He was unaware of the Washington, D.C. statute that prohibits carrying a firearm.
- The statute violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
- The Washington, D.C. parking lot sign violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.
- He held a valid North Carolina gun license allowing him to keep a gun in his Jeep’s locked safe.
- His plea agreement did not specifically waive his right to appeal his conviction.
The appellate court refused to allow Mr. Class to appeal, stating that his plea agreement implicitly waived that right. Undaunted, Mr. Class appealed to the Supreme Court. The Justices agreed with his arguments and overturned the appellate court, holding that “Class did not relinquish his right to appeal the District Court’s constitutional determinations simply by pleading guilty.”
Although the SCOTUS decision occurred too recently for federal white-collar crime convicts to yet realize its full ramifications, it nevertheless gives you new hope that if you may be able to appeal your conviction even if you signed a plea agreement.
This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.