In a recent case, US v. Yah, No. 063736, the Eighth Circuit Court affirmed the conviction but remanded the case for re-sentencing.
Yah had entered into a plea agreement with the government. In exchange for other charges being dropped and a recommendation for the lightest sentence under the guidelines, Yah would plead guilty, thus avoiding the cost of a trial.
Yah did plead guilty, but the government didn't recommend the lightest sentence because between the signing of the plea agreement and the sentencing hearing, Yah engaged in more criminal behavior and was charged with several State criminal offenses. The government argued to the sentencing Judge that this was a breach of the "acceptance of responsibility" clause in the plea agreement.
The appellate courts apply "general contract principles in interpreting plea agreements," and the Eighth Circuit Court interpreted Yah's agreement in Yah's favor. It said the "acceptance of responsibility" clause did not apply to the promise of a recommendation for a lighter sentence.
The case was remanded to a different judge for re-sentencing. The government is obligated to recommend the lighter sentence, but the new Judge is not required to accept the recommendation.
Read the decision . . .
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I am very much opposed to plea agreements. They are useful in only a very few instances. They pose two opposing dangers:
1) They are used by prosecutors to convince innocent people to admit to something they didn't do, to avoid going to prison for a very long time.
2) They are used by savvy criminals as get-out-of-jail free cards, or to greatly minimize the penalties for their crimes.