Rule 11(e) provides that a “Plea may be set aside only on direct appeal or collateral attack.” Unfortunately, on appeal, individuals often face a further hurdle, as appellate courts generally apply a plain error standard where an appellant seeks relief from a plea, but did not file a motion to withdraw at the district court level.
In order to correct an injustice, Mr. Hawkins hired NLPA and Attorney James Belt to prepare an appeal to set aside his plea.
With research assistance from NLPA, Attorney James Belt filed a brief, asserting the issue regarding Mr. Hawkins’ involuntary plea, as well as certain other arguments.
With regards to the plea, it was argued that the district court erred in failing to inform Mr. Hawkins of the nature of the charge to which he was pleading guilty, and by failing to ensure that there was an adequate factual basis for the plea, and that the resulting plea was therefore involuntary.
In making these argument, it was established that the errors affected Mr. Hawkins’ substantial rights, as due process requires a guilty plea to be voluntary, and “a guilty plea … cannot be truly voluntary if a defendant ‘has such an incomplete understanding of the charge that his plea cannot stand as an intelligent admission of guilt.'” Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422, 431 (1983) (quoting Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637, 645, n. 13 (1976)).
In spite of the provision in the plea agreement that blocked Mr. Hawkins from filing an appeal, the Court of Federal Appeals agreed, finding that the district court erred by failing to make sure Mr. Hawkins understood the nature of the charge; and by accepting his plea when there was no sufficient factual basis regarding a critical element of the offense.
NLPA has been at the forefront of the effort to correct improper guilty plea proceedings and obtain justice for those who have entered involuntary guilty pleas. NLPA provides research assistance to counsel with regard to Pretrial, Sentencing, State Appeals, Federal Appeals, Post-Conviction Motions as well as several administrative services.
The Hawkins case demonstrates how NLPA can provide legal assistance to counsel in the preparation of appeal arguments attacking the validity of guilty pleas, as well as how NLPA can assist individuals in their fight to overcome the hurdles faced by individuals who have regrettably pleaded guilty, and who are further challenged with overcoming appeal waivers.