United States v. Timmreck

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Butler Residence

DOCKET NO.: 78-744
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 441 US 780 (1979)
ARGUED: Apr 16, 1979
DECIDED: May 21, 1979

Kenneth Steven Geller - for petitioner
Kenneth M. Mogill - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Timmreck

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 16, 1979 in United States v. Timmreck

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in United States against Timmreck.

Mr. Geller, I think you may proceed when you're ready.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The issue is whether a defendant is entitled to collateral relief from his conviction under 28 U.S.C. 2255 merely because the district judge failed to follow the formal requirements of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in accepting his guilty plea.

We believe that under this Court's consistent interpretation of the scope of habeas corpus for non-constitutional errors, respondent was not entitled to Section 2255 relief as a result of this violation of the rule and that the Court of Appeals therefore erred in reversing the District Court's order denying the writ.

The facts may be briefly summarized as follows.Respondent was one of 22 defendants named in a narcotics conspiracy indictment filed in the Eastern District of Michigan in May 1972.

After extensive plea bargaining, respondent agreed to plead guilty to the conspiracy count of the indictment.

In return, the Government agreed to drop the remaining 17 substantive counts and also agreed not to pursue an unrelated bail jumping charge against him.

The District Court then conducted a Rule 11 proceeding at which it questioned respondent prior to determining whether to accept his plea.

There's no dispute that the Court's inquiry at this proceeding fully complied with Rule 11 in every respect except one.

Although the court mentioned that if respondent pleaded guilty he could be sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and a 5 -- and $25,000 fine.

The court neglected to add that responded could all -- would also be subject to a mandatory special parole term of at least three years.

Four months later, respondent was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 5 years special parole, and to a $5,000 fine.

Now, respondent did not appeal his conviction nor during the following two years did he signal his displeasure with any other aspect of his plea in any way.

In August 1976 however, respondent moved to vacate his sentence under Section 2255, alleging for the first time that the District Court had violated Rule 11 in it -- by failing to mention the special parole term at the time of his plea.

Motion is set out at page 11 of the joint appendix.

It alleges only that Rule 11 was violated.

It doesn't expressly state that respondent was actually unaware of the special parole provisions when he pleaded guilty and more important, it doesn't claim that respondent wouldn't have entered the exact same guilty plea if the judge had notified him on the record of the special parole requirement.

In fact, the motion doesn't allege that respondent was prejudiced in any way by a violation of the rule.

And the same can be said for respondent's allegations in his memorandum in support of his motion which is set out beginning at page 14 of the appendix and the oral argument that the hearing on that motion which begins at page 18 of the joint appendix.

No allegation of actual prejudice.

Now, the District Court denied respondent's 2255 motion.

The court acknowledged that it hadn't complied fully with Rule 11 in taking respondent's plea but it concluded that respondent had -- respondent hadn't been harmed in any way by the technical error and that he therefore was entitled to Section 2255 relief.

The court noted that there were strong indications in the record that respondent had been informed by his attorney of the consequences of his plea prior to pleading guilty.

But that even if he hadn't in light of all the factors involved in the plea bargain, knowledge of the special parole provisions wouldn't have influenced respondent's decision to plea guilty.

The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate respondent's conviction and to allow him to plead anew.

The Court of Appeals didn't dispute any of the District Court's fact findings but it held relying primarily on this Court's decision in McCarthy against the United States that since Rule 11 had been violated, respondent was automatically entitled to withdraw his plea without regard to whether he was actually prejudiced by the defect or whether he had raised the Rule 11 violation on direct appeal or on collateral attack.

Now, I think it would be helpful for me to begin my discussion by explaining the limits of the Government's submission in this case.

We certainly don't contend that a defendant who pleads guilty is there ever foreclosed from ever attacking his guilty plea.