All Aboard! The Supreme Court, Guilty Pleas and the Railroading of Criminal Defendants

University of Colorado Law Review, Vol. 75, No. 3 (2004), pp. 863-919


In U.S. v. Hyde, the Court addressed whether a defendant who seeks to withdraw a guilty plea prior to sentencing must comply with the “fair and just reason” standard, which was then embodied in Rule 32(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, when the court has accepted the plea but has yet to accept the accompanying plea agreement. Answering in the affirmative, the Court relied primarily upon a textual construction of Rule 11 and noted that a contrary holding, such as that adopted by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the underlying litigation, “would degrade the otherwise serious act of pleading guilty into something akin to a move in a game of chess.”

This article will demonstrate the fallaciousness of the Hyde decision, how an overriding concern for judicial economy underlied its reasoning, and how Hyde and the recent revisions to Rule 11 contribute to a guilty plea process that is deceptive, inequitable, and violative of substantive due process; a process rife with constitutional and contractual inconsistencies that encourages guilty pleas at the expense of standard notions of fairness. Throughout, this article will detail the systematic betrayal of unsuspecting defendants through the illusory enticement of an enforceable plea agreement, explain why this subterfuge of enforceability unfairly binds defendants to unaccepted plea offers and constricts their ability to pursue more optimal strategies in a manner unseen in standard marketplace contracts, and illuminate the vital role that the federal plea withdrawal rules play in this process.