Friday, August 10, 2007

Must Look to Law of Convicting Jurisdiction to Determine Whether Guilty Plea Admits All or Only Some of Conjunctive Allegations In Charging Instrument

United States v. Morales-Martinez, No. 06-40467 (5th Cir. Aug. 8, 2007) (Higginbotham, Garza, Benavides)

An offense can be committed in multiple ways, some of which would qualify for an enhancement (such as a "drug trafficking" or "crime of violence" enhancement), and some of which would not. Charging instrument alleges qualifying and non-qualifying means conjunctively. Defendant pleads guilty to the charging instrument. Does his guilty plea admit all of the allegations in the charging instrument, thus qualifying him for the enhancement?

Answer: you have to look to the law of the convicting jurisdiction to see whether a guilty plea to conjunctive allegations admits all of them or only some of them. If only some, then you have to apply the Taylor/Shepard approach to see if there are judicial documents establishing the particular statutory alterntive underlying the conviction. Let's see how that played out here.

Morales, who pled guilty to illegal reentry, had a prior Texas conviction for delivery of cocaine. Under United States v. Gonzales, the offense may or may not be a drug-trafficking offense under guideline 2L1.2. Specifically, the Texas "delivery" definition includes offers to sell, which aren't §2L1.2 drug trafficking. In the state case, Morales had pled guilty to an indictment which alleged all three means of delivery conjunctively: actual transfer, constructive transfer, and offer to sell. The Government argued that his guilty plea admitted all three means of delivery, thus qualifying him for a drug-trafficking enhancement under guideline §2L1.2.

The Court disagreed. It recognized that "[t]here is some caselaw supporting the Government's argument that a guilty plea admits all of the facts in the charging document." But as the court pointed out, "not all courts apply this rule; other jurisdictions apply a narrower rule that treats a guilty plea as admitting only those material facts needed to support the conviction." Thus, a court must determine the effect of a guilty plea in the convicting jurisdiction. In this case, that's Texas.

"Texas takes the narrower approach, treating a guilty plea as an admission of only those facts needed to support the conviction." And under Texas law governing the procedure for establishing the factual basis for a guilty plea, "the State is only required to present evidence sufficient to support the conviction[; it] need not present evidence that the defendant committed the offense according to each of the means alleged in the indictment." In this case, the Government did not present "any evidence, such as the plea colloquy or other admissions by Morales-Martinez, indicating what evidence the State presented in Morales-Martinez’s 1993 conviction or what evidence the Texas court relied on to support the conviction." Under the Taylor/Shepard approach, that's not enough to establish that Morales's conviction was for a DTO:
In this case, having nothing more than the fact of conviction and the charging document, we know only that the State offered some evidence sufficient to support conviction. The conviction, though, could have been supported if the State offered evidence that Morales-Martinez actually transferred, constructively transferred, or offered to sell cocaine. Therefore, we cannot determine, on the sole basis of Morales-Martinez’s guilty plea and the abovedescribed charging document, whether Morales-Martinez transferred cocaine or merely offered to sell cocaine.

It was therefore error for the district court to have applied the DTO enhancement in Morales's case. So sentence vacated and case remanded for resentencing.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home