U.S v Ruiz (2002)

Angela Ruiz possessed Marijuana in her luggage and was intercepted by immigration agents and arrested. Prosecutors offered her a “fast track” plea bargain meant to incentivize her to plea guilty through the offer of a reduced sentence. The two caveats, however, that came with the plea bargain were that she would waive her rights to a trial and appeal and that she would also waive the right to receive any impeachment information on any witnesses or informants and and any information supporting an affirmative defense should they go to trial. Ruiz refused to agree to waive her right to receive the information, opting to take her case to trial. During trial she pleaded guilty despite not accepting the plea agreement previously outlined, and stated that she did give a guilty plea and believed she should receive what was offered in the “fast track” plea. The district court did not see this reasoning to be logical and sentenced her to what would reasonably be given for an offense of this nature.

 

"I'm innocent. I've just never been able to pass up a good plea bargain."
“I’m innocent. I’ve just never been able to pass up a good plea bargain.”

The appellate court, however, agreed with Ruiz stating that all information about the trial must be given before a plea bargain is made in order to ensure the defendant gives a voluntary plea. The appellate court argued that since this “fast track” plea was intended to withhold information from Ruiz it was unconstitutional. The case was passed on to the Supreme Court who decided unanimously (9-0) that this “fast track” plea bargain was constitutional. Justice Breyer wrote the opinion and it focused on the fact that the case should have never actually made it to the appellate court as it was a violation of law. Breyer also stated that the Fifth and Sixth amendments provide a guarantee that a defendant should have the right to exculpatory impeachment evidence in a fair trial. Breyer reiterated that under a plea agreement such rights are not guaranteed as long as the defendant waives their rights knowingly. Under these pretenses the Court decided that the tactics used by prosecutors were, in fact, constitutional.

In my opinion I do find this to be constitutional, as Ruiz did know exactly what she was doing when she did not accept the terms of plea agreement. If she was allowed to simply deny the agreement and then accept it once she deemed it convenient it would make a mockery of the criminal justice system. If a defendant decides to deny a plea agreement, it cannot be possible that they can simply accept it once the trial appears to be out of their favor. I find it to be very fair that prosecutors can offer this “fast track” plea bargain, the courts are overburdened with cases and in this case it would have been difficult to prove her innocence, as the Marijuana was tangible evidence of her crime. I believe in this situation it would have been in Ruiz’s best interest to simply have accepted the terms of the plea bargain.

 

 

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