Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, Benchimol (Respondent), a criminal defendant, alleges that the Government breached its plea bargain when during his sentencing hearing the Government did not make an “enthusiastic” support for the agreement and did not explain the reasons for the agreement to the court.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Government does not breach its plea bargain with a criminal defendant when at the sentencing hearing of a criminal defendant with whom it entered a plea bargain, the Government does not go beyond the agreed-to terms of the plea bargain.
Issue. Whether, during a sentencing hearing, the Government’s failure to explain reasons for agreeing to recommend a sentence in a plea bargain and to enthusiastically support the agreement breached the plea bargaining agreement?
Held. No. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held that the Government did not breach the plea bargain agreement, and that it was error for the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to imply an un-agreed to term as a matter of law. The Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(e) provides that the Government attorney is authorized to make a recommendation for a sentence, or agree not to oppose the defendant’s request for such a sentence, with the understanding that such recommendation or request shall not be binding upon the court. Here, the Government did not undertake to commit itself to “enthusiastically” make a particular recommendation to the court, and it did not commit itself to explain to the court the reasons for the Government’s making a particular recommendation. The relevant determination is what the parties in fact agreed to, and not implied-in-law terms to be read into the plea agreement.
Dissent. The Supreme Court today has continued its unsettling and inappropriate practice of summarily reversing decisions rendered in favor of criminal defendants, based not on broad principle but on idiosyncratic facts and without full briefing or oral argument.
Concurrence. The error in this case, if any, was not serious enough to support a collateral attack. The error here is not a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice and is not an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure. The time to object to the alleged Government error of failing to recommend affirmatively the proper sentence was at the sentencing hearing or on direct appeal, whether or not the Government complied with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(e).
Discussion. During a sentencing hearing, the Government is not obligated to make an “enthusiastic” sentencing recommendation nor to explain the reasons for the recommendation, when the Government has not committed itself in so doing in its plea bargain.