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Ninth Circuit orders district court to accept guilty pleas of illegal immigrants

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ordered [decision, PDF] a district court to accept guilty pleas entered by three illegal aliens facing immigration charges. The defendants had entered unconditional guilty pleas to charges that they re-entered the country after having been removed previously, a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) [statute provision]. The lower court had refused to accept the guilty pleas because it found they were not entered in accordance with  procedural rules [FRCrP Rule 11(b) text] governing pleas, and a US Attorney charged the men with more serious violations of the INA punishable by longer prison terms. Holding that the pleas were not in violation of the rule and ordering their acceptance, the Ninth Circuit stated:

The government lost its power to file additional charges the moment defendants pled guilty knowingly, voluntarily, and unconditionally before the magistrate judges. Defendants' pleas may not have taken final legal effect at that moment, as defendants remained free to withdraw their pleas...But whatever legal significance may attach to a guilty plea taken by a magistrate judge, the plea also carries significant real-world consequences. A defendant's guilty plea is a confession, freely and publicly made, that he is a criminal. This has immediate and enduring effects on the defendant's standing in the community, and for that reason and many others is often an excruciating experience. If the confession meets the requirements of Rule 11(b) - requirements that exist for the defendant's own protection - then the government has no power to force the defendant to go through the ordeal again to serve its own purposes.
Last week, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained a government handbook [PDF download; press release] issued to the lawyers defending illegal immigrants arrested in May raids [JURIST news archive] on a meat-processing plant in Iowa. The ACLU then accused federal prosecutors of pushing guilty pleas [JURIST report] on the immigrants. The handbook included pre-printed forms to be used for filing guilty pleas, but had no information on contesting the charges. Representatives from both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [testimony transcripts, PDF] have defended [JURIST report] the government's arrest and conviction processes in those cases, saying that the immigrants' constitutional rights were strictly applied.

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