United States v. Morales Heredia

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 10-08-2014
  • Case #: 12-50331
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wardlaw for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judge Fisher
  • Full Text Opinion

When the government commits to a plea agreement, it may not use prejudicial or inflammatory language to implicitly argue for a sentence harsher than the agreed upon sentence.

In 2011, Paul Gabriel Morales Heredia, a Mexican citizen, entered the United States without inspection and was charged with illegal reentry. Morales Heredia had been removed from the United States three times prior to 2011. Morales Heredia agreed to plead guilty to a single count of illegal reentry, in addition to waiving certain constitutional rights, in exchange for the government’s recommendation of a sentence at the low end of the applicable United States Sentencing Guidelines. The government recommended the agreed upon sentence of six months but included a lengthy discussion of Morales Heredia’s criminal history in its sentencing memorandum. At the sentencing hearing, Morales Heredia did not withdraw his plea although given the option. The district court sentenced Morales Heredia to twenty-one months of incarceration. Morales Heredia appealed the sentencing. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that when the government commits to a plea agreement, it may not use prejudicial or inflammatory language to implicitly argue for a sentence harsher than the agreed upon sentence. The panel reasoned, the purpose of a plea agreement is to provide a unified front before the court and the government undermined this front by providing prejudicial details that did not provide any value to the court. VACATED and REMANDED.

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