United States v. Kyle

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 10-30-2013
  • Case #: 12-10208
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Senior District Judge Marshall for the Court; Circuit Court Judges Berzon and Bybee
  • Full Text Opinion

When a court goes beyond providing reasons for rejecting the agreement presented and comments on the hypothetical agreements it would or would not accept, it crosses over the line established by Rule 11 and becomes involved in negotiations.

Defendant Kenneth Martin Kyle entered into a plea agreement after he was indicted for one count each of transportation, possession, production, and distribution of child pornography and for one court of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. The district court rejected Kyle’s first plea agreement with the government for a sentence of 360 months and a guilty plea to the aggravated sexual abuse of the child because the court thought it was too lenient. Kyle withdrew his guilty plea. Counsel for Kyle and the district court discussed the plea agreement. Kyle’s second plea agreement was for a guilty plea to aggravated sexual abuse of the child and a 450-month sentence that the district court accepted. Kyle appealed and argued that the district court violated Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1). The Ninth Circuit held it was plain error for the district court to reject the first plea agreement. Rule 11(c)(1) is violated when a court either commits itself to a certain level of severity of a sentence or “encourages a defendant to plead guilty,” these are illustrated in the cases of Frank, Crowell, and Kraus. The panel said that the district court “may not indicate what it might find acceptable or unacceptable in resolving the case.” The panel said that it was unlikely that Kyle would have agreed to a significant increase of his sentence with no additional benefit without the district court’s remarks. The remarks of the district court could be considered inconsistent with the court’s role as neutral and could be perceived by Kyle that way. The panel remanded the case to a different judge because the judge said that he would accept some agreements and not others this could impact the case. VACATE and REMAND.

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