(CN) – When the government breaches a plea agreement, the appeals court can apply plain-error review, even if the defendant does not object to the breach at trial, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
In 2002, James Puckett of Texas reached an agreement with the federal government to plead guilty to armed bank robbery and use of a firearm during a violent crime. The government reduced Puckett’s sentence in exchange for the guilty pleas.
However, the government took the deal off the table after Puckett assisted in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Postal Service.
One of the terms of the plea agreement was acceptance of responsibility, which includes the termination of criminal activity, the prosecutor argued.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction because Puckett did not show that his rights were violated by the government’s breach of the plea agreement.
Justice Scalia affirmed the decision, ruling that the plain-error doctrine applied in the usual way in a case like this. He also noted that the doctrine prevents defense counsel from deliberately failing to raise objections.
“The defendant cannot ‘game’ the system, waiting to see if the sentence strikes him as satisfactory, and seeking a second bite at the apple by raising the claim,” Scalia ruled.