Withdrawing from a Federal Plea Agreement

Typically, once you enter a plea agreement (especially in federal court) the defendant is stuck. Federal Judges do a great job making sure the defendant’s plea is knowingly, voluntary and with full understanding of the consequences. USA v. Siamak Fard is a case about how difficult the plea process really is and how defense lawyers can protect their clients.

Siamak S. Fard pled guilty to wire fraud pursuant to a blind plea – a plea without a written agreement. He sought later sought to withdraw his plea. He claimed the plea was not knowingly and voluntarily.

The district judge conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Fard’s plea was based upon a representation by Fard’s original defense counsel that the government promised to dismiss part of the indictment if Fard pled guilty and cooperated.

At the hearing, Fard’s counsel denied making such a statement. Rejecting Fard’s testimony, the district judge credited counsel’s testimony and denied Fard’s motion to withdraw his plea.

At sentencing, the judge increased Fard’s sentence, finding that he obstructed justice by lying at the evidentiary hearing. The Judge also denied Fard’s motion for an acceptance of responsibility reduction, because Fard falsely denied his leadership role in the scheme.

By pleading guilty, a defendant gives up several fundamental constitutional guarantees. Because a defendant waives these rights, both due process and Rule 11 require that the guilty plea be made voluntarily and knowingly.

In Fard’s case the Court held that they could not conclude that Fard was fully aware of the nature of the crime to which he pled guilty and that the guilty plea was “enveloped in confusion and misunderstanding.” The bottom line was that the appellate court could not say with confidence that Fard truly understood that a wire fraud conviction required intent to defraud.

In a system where 95% of all federal crimes end in a plea bargain it is important that the defendant understand every detail of the process. “A defendant’s clear understanding of the nature of the charge to which he is pleading guilty relates to the very heart of the protections afforded by the Constitution and Rule 11.”

Case decided January 7th, 2015.

The federal criminal defense lawyers at NLKJ represent people charged with federal crimes in both the District Court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Our office has participated in 100’s of plea bargains and trials. Click here for more information.