The great majority of all defendants against whom indictments or informations are filed in the federal courts plead guilty. Only a comparatively small number go to trial. See United States Attorneys Statistical Report, Fiscal Year 1964, p. 1. The fairness and adequacy of the procedures on acceptance of pleas of guilty are of vital importance in according equal justice to all in the federal courts.
It is important for an experienced attorney in federal court to understand the plea process. Of course not every defendant has to plea. A defendant charged with an offense is absolutely entitled to proceed to trial.
However if a defendant wants to explore a plea, the negotiations are not admissible. A jury will never hear that there was an offer or what it was. It is simply not admissible.
It is important, however, to understand the plea process. Most pleas are pursuant to an agreement with the prosecutor but not always. An agreement with the prosecutor is referred to as Rule 11 Plea.
(a) Entering a Plea.
(1) In General. A defendant may plead not guilty, guilty, or (with the court’s consent) nolo contendere.
(2) Conditional Plea. With the consent of the court and the government, a defendant may enter a conditional plea of guilty or nolo contendere, reserving in writing the right to have an appellate court review an adverse determination of a specified pretrial motion. A defendant who prevails on appeal may then withdraw the plea.
(3) Nolo Contendere Plea. Before accepting a plea of nolo contendere, the court must consider the parties’ views and the public interest in the effective administration of justice.
(4) Failure to Enter a Plea. If a defendant refuses to enter a plea or if a defendant organization fails to appear, the court must enter a plea of not guilty.
(b) Considering and Accepting a Guilty or Nolo Contendere Plea.
(1) Advising and Questioning the Defendant. Before the court accepts a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the defendant may be placed under oath, and the court must address the defendant personally in open court. During this address, the court must inform the defendant of, and determine that the defendant understands, the following:
(A) the government’s right, in a prosecution for perjury or false statement, to use against the defendant any statement that the defendant gives under oath;
(B) the right to plead not guilty, or having already so pleaded, to persist in that plea;
(C) the right to a jury trial;
(D) the right to be represented by counsel—and if necessary have the court appoint counsel—at trial and at every other stage of the proceeding;
(E) the right at trial to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, to be protected from compelled self-incrimination, to testify and present evidence, and to compel the attendance of witnesses;
(F) the defendant’s waiver of these trial rights if the court accepts a plea of guilty or nolo contendere;
(G) the nature of each charge to which the defendant is pleading;
(H) any maximum possible penalty, including imprisonment, fine, and term of supervised release;
(I) any mandatory minimum penalty;
(J) any applicable forfeiture;
(K) the court’s authority to order restitution;
(L) the court’s obligation to impose a special assessment;
(M) in determining a sentence, the court’s obligation to calculate the applicable sentencing-guideline range and to consider that range, possible departures under the Sentencing Guidelines, and other sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. §3553(a);
(N) the terms of any plea-agreement provision waiving the right to appeal or to collaterally attack the sentence; and
(O) that, if convicted, a defendant who is not a United States citizen may be removed from the United States, denied citizenship, and denied admission to the United States in the future.
(2) Ensuring That a Plea Is Voluntary. Before accepting a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the court must address the defendant personally in open court and determine that the plea is voluntary and did not result from force, threats, or promises (other than promises in a plea agreement).
(3) Determining the Factual Basis for a Plea. Before entering judgment on a guilty plea, the court must determine that there is a factual basis for the plea.
(c) Plea Agreement Procedure.
(1) In General. An attorney for the government and the defendant’s attorney, or the defendant when proceeding pro se, may discuss and reach a plea agreement. The court must not participate in these discussions. If the defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere to either a charged offense or a lesser or related offense, the plea agreement may specify that an attorney for the government will:
(A) not bring, or will move to dismiss, other charges;