Court Reminds District Court’s not to Omit Advisements Required During Rule 11 Proceedings

Seventh Circuit Criminal Case Summaries: Plea Agreements/Guilty Pleas - Validity

United States v. Davenport, 719 F.3d 616 (7th Cir. 2013). Upon the grant of a motion to dismiss pursuant to the filing of an Anders brief, the Court of Appeals found that the district court’s failure to advise the defendant at his change of plea hearing of his right to testify if he went to trial was not plain error. However, the court also had this to say, “We note, however, that these kinds of omissions occur all too frequently during plea colloquys, and we caution district courts to use more care. Not every omission will be harmless, and full compliance with Rule 11 is easily achieved.”

United States v. Henry, 702 F.3d 377 (7th Cir. 2012). The defendant entered into a plea agreement with a waiver of his appellate rights. At sentencing, the district court sentenced the defendant to 96 months’ imprisonment, consecutive to his undischarged state term of imprisonment on another conviction. On appeal, the defendant argued that his plea was not knowing and voluntary because he was unaware that his federal sentence could run consecutively to the state term of imprisonment and that the district court was required to advise him of the same. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Although the defendant may not have known that his federal term would be consecutive to the state term, an unanticipated sentence does not make a plea unknowing or involuntary. The defendant was properly advised at his Rule 11 colloquy which demonstrated his plea was knowing and voluntary. Finally, a district court is not required to advise a defendant that his federal sentence may run consecutively to an undischarged state term.

In United States v. Hardimon, 700 F.3d 940 (7th Cir. 2012), the court affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea premised upon his argument that the psychotropic drugs he was taking at the time of his plea clouded his mind and made his plea involuntary. At the guilty-plea hearing the judge asked the defendant whether he was “currently under the influence of any drugs, medicine, or alcohol,” and the defendant answered: “prescription medications.” The judge asked him whether “any of these medications affect your ability to think clearly,” and the defendant answered “no,” and also “no” to whether he had been “treated in the past 60 days for any addictions to drugs, medicine or alcohol of any kind.” But he answered “yes” to the next question—whether he’d been treated in the past 60 days for “any mental disorders, mental defects, or mental problems.” The judge asked him to explain, and he replied that he was taking medicines for “high anxiety, depression, adult attention hyperactivity disorder, and depression.” At“therapeutic level?” the judge asked, and the defendant said “I believe so, yes.” The judge asked the defendant whether he thought the drugs were working and he said, “I believe the ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—the disorder that he called ‘adult attention hyperactivity disorder’] medicine makes me concentrate more. It does cause quite a bit of anxiety, so they have given me something else to help the anxiety a little bit, but it [the ADHD medicine] definitely increases my alertness.” In answer to further questions the defendant assured the judge that he was “thinking clearly,” “capable of making decisions, serious decisions,” such as pleading guilty to the 15- count information that the government had filed against him, and that he had no “physical conditions or problems that affect” his “ability to think clearly.” The judge then proceeded with the usual questions in a plea hearing, received the usual answers, and accepted the plea of guilty. Six weeks later the defendant moved to withdraw the plea, explaining that he had been taking Prozac to treat his mental illnesses but that a week after the plea hearing his primary-care physician had switched him to Lexapro and “almost immediately” he experienced “increased alertness, awareness and attentiveness” and realized that at the plea hearing he had been “incapable of understanding the true nature of the charges against him . . . and the consequences of his plea.” Both the district court and the Court of Appeals rejected this argument. The court noted that the drugs the defendant took are taken by millions of people and it should not just be assumed that someone can’t think straight because they are taking them. Rather, to make a case for withdrawal of a plea, the defendant needs to present the affidavit of a qualified psychiatrist describing the possible effects of the drugs in the dosages prescribed and indicating that the defendant’s ability to think was materially impaired. Here, the judge’s inquiries at the plea hearing were adequate and revealed no impairment of the defendant. Accordingly, the bare assertion that the defendant was on medication which he claimed to alter his thinking was not enough to establish the plea was involuntary.