Peguero v. United States

PETITIONER: Peguero
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: North Carolina General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 97-9217
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 23 (1999)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 1999
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1999

ADVOCATES:
Daniel I. Siegel - Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, argued the cause for the petitioner
Roy W. McLeese, III - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1992, the District Court sentenced Manuel D. Peguero to 274 months of imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. During sentencing, the court did not inform Peguero of his right to appeal the sentence. In 1996, in a later motion for habeas relief, Peguero claimed that the court violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(a)(2) by failing to advise him of his right to appeal. After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court found that, although it failed to advise Peguero of his right, he knew of his right when the sentencing hearing occurred. Thus the court, rejecting Peguero's claim that any violation of Rule 32 is enough to vacate a sentence, held that he was not entitled to relief because he was aware of his right to appeal at the time of sentencing. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that a Rule 32 violation was subject to harmless-error review and concluded that the rule's purpose had been served since Peguero was aware of his right to appeal.

Question

Does a District Court's failure to advise a defendant of his right to appeal, as required by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, provide ground for habeas relief when the defendant was aware of his right and elected not to appeal?

Media for Peguero v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 1999 in Peguero v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 02, 1999 in Peguero v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 97-9217, Peguero versus United States will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The petitioner Manuel Peguero entered a guilty pleaded conspiracy to distribute cocaine and the District Court sentenced him to the lengthily term of imprisonment.

The court did not advise the petitioner at the sentencing hearing of his right to appeal the sentence more than four years after he was sentenced.

The petitioner moved to set the sentence aside, alleging on various grounds.

For our purposes the important allegation he made was that the Trial Court violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(a)(2) by failing to advise petitioner of his right to appeal the sentence.

After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court found as the petitioner himself testified that the petitioner knew of his right to appeal when the sentencing hearing occurred.

The District Court rejected the petitioner's claim that any violation of Rule 32 without regards to prejudice is enough to vacate a sentence.

The court held that the petitioner was not entitled to habeas relief because he was actually aware of his right to appeal at the time of sentencing.

The Third Circuit affirmed and we agree with both of those courts.

Now, we hold that the District Court's failure to advise the defendant of his right to appeal does not entitle him to habeas relief, if he knew of the right and hence suffered no prejudice from the omission.

Rule 32(a)(2)'s requirement, that the District Court inform a defendant of his right to appeal, does serve important and vital functions, and those are detailed in the opinion, and it is undisputed that the court's failure to give the required advise at the sentencing hearing was an error.

A violation of the Rule does not, however entitled the defendant to collateral relief in all circumstances.

As a general rule, the court's failure to give a defendant advice required by the federal rules is sufficient basis for collateral relief only when the defendant is prejudiced by the error.

Here the petitioner had full knowledge of his right to appeal.

Hence the District Court's violation of Rule 32(a)(2) by failing to inform him of that right did not prejudice him.

The fact to the violation standing alone does not entitle the petitioner to collateral relief.

Now, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is affirmed.

Justice O'Connor has filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Stevens, Justice Ginsburg, and Breyer join.