U.S. v. Ruiz 2002

Ruiz was found by immigration agents to be harboring Marijuana in her luggage and was arrested accordingly. Federal prosecutors then approached her with an offer of a “fast track” plea bargain that would offer a reduced sentence recommendation. The fast track plea bargain came with two caveats; waive the rights to indictment, trial, and an appeal as well as waive the right to receive impeachment information on any witnesses and information supporting any affirmative defense she may raise if they go to trail. Ruiz refused to agree to waive the latter and opted out of the plea bargain in order to take the case to trail. During trial,  Ruiz gives a guilty plea despite not being bound by a plea agreement. During sentencing she asks for the reduced sentence that was offered by the prosecution, citing how she did give a guilty plea in the end, which she believed should account for something. The district court disagreed and gave her a usual sentence. The appellate court agreed with Ruiz stating that under the Constitution, all information about the trial must be given before a plea bargain in order to make it fair and voluntary on the part of the defendant. Since the fast track plea bargain purposefully withheld such information from the defendant, the appellate court found the practice unconstitutional and sided with Ruiz.

The Supreme Court saw it differently. In a clear 9-0 unanimous decision, the Court held that the fast track plea bargain was in fact constitutional, with the majority opinion written by Justice Breyer. In the opinion it addresses the fact that the case should never have really made it to the appellate court on the grounds of violation of law. The Fifth and Sixth Amendment due provide the guarantee to a defendant the right to and exculpatory impeachment evidence in a fair trial. Under a plea agreement though, the constitution throws out the guarantee of these rights as a plea agreement throws out the possibility of a fair trial.  Instead, it is only required that the defendant waive their rights knowingly, willingly, and intelligently which provides no avenue for requiring impeachment evidence to be given. it was under this logic that the Supreme Court decided that Ruiz plea agreement was valid, and by giving it up she was subject to the full sentence imposed upon her by the district court with no right to appeal.

This raises the idea in my head of how knowing and intelligent can you be when giving up you rights if you are not receiving all of the information? I understand that criminal proceedings are a cat and mouse game between prosecutors and defendants but there comes a point where I believe in order to make a logical and sound decision you must first know all of the information. Then again, if it were required of prosecutors to give all information prior to a plea agreement, there would be a high chance of manipulation when transferring the information such as downplaying the importance of some key facets. In the end I do not believe there is one real answer but rather a constant tug and pull as to whether Plea agreements are fair.

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