Carthy v. United States

Decision Date02 April 1969
Docket NumberNo. 43,43
Citation89 S.Ct. 1166,394 U.S. 459,22 L.Ed.2d 418
PartiesWilliam J. McCARTHY, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Maurice J. McCarthy, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

James Van R. Springer, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the procedure that must be followed under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure before a United States District Court may accept a guilty plea and the remedy for a failure to follow that procedure.

On April 1, 1966, petitioner was indicted on three counts in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for violating § 7201 of the Internal Revenue Code. He was charged with 'wilfully and knowingly' attempting to evade tax payments of $928.74 for 1959 (count 1), $5,143.70 for 1960 (count 2), and $1,207.12 for 1961 (count 3). At his arraignment two weeks later, petitioner, who was represented by retained counsel, pleaded not guilty to each count. The court scheduled his trial for June 30; but on June 29, it granted the Government's motion to postpone the trial because of petitioner's illness. The trial was rescheduled for July 15.

On that day, after informing the court that he had 'advised * * * (petitioner) of the consequences of a plea,' defense counsel moved to withdraw petitioner's plea of not guilty to count 2 and to enter a plea of guilty to that count. The District Judge asked petitioner if he desired to plead guilty and if he understood that such a plea waived his right to a jury trial and subjected him to imprisonment for as long as five years and to a fine as high as $10,000. Petitioner stated that he understood these consequences and wanted to plead guilty. The Government consented to this plea change and informed the court that if petitioner's plea of guilty to count 2 were accepted, the Government would move to dismiss counts 1 and 3. Before the plea was accepted, however, the prosecutor asked the judge to inquire whether it had been induced by any threats or promises. In response to the judge's inquiry, petitioner replied that his plea was not the product of either. He stated that it was entered of his 'own volition.' The court ordered a presentence investigation and continued the case to September 14, 1966.1

At the commencement of the sentencing hearing on September 14, petitioner asserted that his failure to pay taxes was 'not deliberate' and that they would have been paid if he had not been in poor health. The prosecutor stated that the 'prime consideration' for the Government's agreement to move to dismiss counts 1 and 3 was petitioner's promise to pay all taxes, penalties, and interest. The prosecutor then requested the court to refer expressly to this agreement. After noting that petitioner possessed sufficient attachable assets to meet these obligations, the court imposed a sentence of one year and a fine of $2,500. Petitioner's counsel immediately moved to suspend the sentence. He emphasized that petitioner, who was then 65 years of age, was in poor health and contended that his failure to pay his taxes had resulted from his 'neglectful' and inadvertent' method of bookkeeping during a period when he had been suffering from a very serious drinking problem. Consequently, asserted petitioner's counsel, 'there was never any disposition to deprive the United States of its due.' The judge, however, after indicating he had examined the presentence report, stated his opinion that 'the manner in which (petitioner's) books were kept was not inadvertent.' He declined, therefore, to suspend petitioner's sentence.2

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, petitioner argued that his plea should be set aside because it had been accepted in violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Specifically, petitioner contended (1) that the District Court had accepted his plea 'without first addressing (him) * * * personally and determining that the plea (was) * * * made voluntarily with understanding of the nature of the charge * * *,'3 and (2) that the court had entered judgment without determining 'that there (was) * * * a factual basis for the plea.'4 In affirming petitioner's conviction,5 the Court of Appeals held that the District Judge had complied with Rule 11. The court implied that the Rule did not require the District Judge to address petitioner personally to determine if he understood the nature of the charge. The court also concluded that the colloquy at the sentencing hearing demonstrated that the judge had satisfied himself by an examination of the presentence report that the plea had a factual basis.6

Because of the importance of the proper construction of Rule 11 to the administration of criminal law in the federal court,7 and because of a conflict in the courts of appeals over the effect of a district court's failure to follow the provisions of the Rule,8 we granted certiorari. 390 U.S. 1038, 88 S.Ct. 1635, 20 L. d.2d 300 (1968). We agree with petitioner that the District Judge did not comply with Rule 11 in this case; and in reversing the Court of Appeals, we hold that a defendant is entitled to plead anew if a United States district court accepts his guilty plea without fully adhering to the procedure provided for in Rule 11. This decision is based solely upon our construction of Rule 11 and is made pursuant to our supervisory power over the lower federal courts; we do not reach any of the constitutional arguments petitioner urges as additional grounds for reversal.


Rule 11 expressly directs the district judge to inquire whether a defendant who pleads guilty understands the nature of the charge against him and whether he is aware of the consequences of his plea. At oral argument, however, counsel for the Government repeatedly conceded that the judge did not personally inquire whether petitioner understood the nature of the charge. At one point, counsel stated quite explicitly: 'The subject on which he (the District Judge) did not directly address the defendant, which is raised here, is the question of the defendant's understanding of the charges.' Nevertheless, the Government argues that since petitioner stated his desire to plead guilty, and since he was informed of the consequences of his plea, the District Court 'could properly assume that petitioner was entering that plea with a complete understanding of the charge against him.'9 (Emphasis added.)

We cannot accept this argument, which completely ignores the two purposes of Rule 11 and the reasons for its recent amendment. First, although the procedure embodied in Rule 11 has not been held to be constitutionally mandated,10 it is designed to assist the district judge in making the constitutionally required determination that a defendant's guilty plea is truly voluntary.11 Second, the Rule is intended to produce a complete record at the time the plea is entered of the factors relevant to this voluntariness determination. Thus, the more meticulously the Rule is adhered to, the more it tends to discourage, or at least to enable more expeditious disposition of, the numerous and often frivolous post-conviction attacks on the constitutional validity of guilty pleas.12

Prior to the 1966 amendment, however, not all district judges personally interrogated defendant before accepting their guilty pleas.13 With an awareness of the confusion over the Rule's requirements in this respect, the draftsmen amended it to add a provision 'expressly requir(ing) the court to address the defendant personally.'14 This clarification of the judge's responsibilities quite obviously furthers both of the Rule's purposes. By personally interrogating the defendant, not only will the judge be better able to ascertain the plea's voluntariness, but he also will develop a more complete record to support his determination in a subsequent post-conviction attack.

These two purposes have their genesis in the nature of a guilty plea. A defendant who enters such a plea simultaneously waives several constitutional rights, including his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, his right to trial by jury, and his right to confront his accusers.15 For this waiver to be valid under the Due Process Clause, it must be 'an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege.' Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938). Consequently, if a defendant's guilty plea is not equally voluntary and knowing, it has been obtained in violation of due process and is therefore void.16 Moreover, because a guilty plea is an admission of all the elements of a formal criminal charge, it cannot be truly voluntary unless the defendant possesses an understanding of the law in relation to the facts.17

Thus, in addition to directing the judge to inquire into the defendant's understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of his plea, Rule 11 also requires the judge to satisfy himself that there is a factual basis for the plea. The judge must determine 'that the conduct which the defendant admits constitutes the offense charged in the indictment or information or an offense included therein to which the defendant has pleaded guilty.'18 Requiring this examination of the relation between the law and the acts the defendant admits having committed is designed to 'protect a defendant who is in the position of pleading voluntarily with an understanding of the nature of the charge but without realizing that his conduct does not actually fall within the charge.'19

To the extent that the district judge thus exposes the defendant's state of mind on the record through personal interrogation, he not only facilitates his own determination of a guilty plea's voluntariness, but he also facilitates that determination in any subsequent post-conviction proceeding based upon a claim that the plea was involuntary. Both of...

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