Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 5 (2006), pp. 1895-1944


This Article will commence with a review of the rather significant evolution of Rule 11, including a review of several pertinent Supreme Court decisions that have helped shape its current structure. Thereafter, the predominant judicial methodology for conducting Rule 11 hearings will be discussed. Specifically, this Article will take a brief but critical look at, inter alia, the examination techniques employed by the judiciary when conducting Rule 11 hearings, and conclude that the process typically employed inadequately assesses whether a defendant's guilty plea was entered into knowingly and voluntarily. Next, this Article will discuss two very recent Supreme Court decisions--United States v. Vonn, decided in 2002, and Bradshaw v. Stumpf, decided in 2005--that have substantially aggravated the already aggrieved Rule 11 hearing process described in the preceding section. More specifically, this Article will show how Vonn and Bradshaw have greatly eased an already fluid Rule 11 process for the judiciary by placing unrealistic and unjust burdens and obstacles upon the defendant when claiming judicial noncompliance with Rule 11. Thereafter, this Article will turn its attention to the 1997 Supreme Court case of United States v. Hyde, and the accompanying 2002 amendment to Rule 11 which codified that Supreme Court decision. through the employment of contract law principles, this Article will succinctly describe how the plea withdrawal rules unfairly bind unwary defendants to their guilty pleas (thereby preventing defendants from pursuing more optimal strategic alternatives) without providing a corresponding right to enforce the underlying plea agreement. This Article will then undertake an in-depty review and critique of Tovar. In discussing Tovar, this Article will examine Supreme Court precedent as it has developed regarding the waiver of Sixth Amendment counsel rights and, in the end, argue that the Court's minimalist construction of the Amendment fails in its interpretation. It will further argue that the required admonitions delineated in Tovar, in conjunction with the standard practices across the various circuits, fail to illuminate the pitfalls and consequences associated with the guilty plea process as well as the benefits of counsel in the guilty plea context. Thereafter, this Article will conclude with a proposal section. In it this Article will detail those admonitions that should be provided to defendants by virtue of the Sixth Amendment, as well as suggest additional warnings that should be part of a legislative remedy. Together the required admonitions, if ultimately adopted, will ensure that defendants contemplating such counsel waivers are better informed of the benefits of counsel and better equipped to gauge the consequences attendant to each choice.