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Cookie Coercion? Tea Party Doesn't Trump Waiver of Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Earlier this year, we learned that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals won’t suppress a confession based on a defendant’s assertion that she was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time she confessed.

Now, the Tenth Circuit has ruled that a defendant cannot withdraw her guilty plea based on her claims that a Department of Justice official used cookies and tea to coerce her to accept the agreement.

Defendant Eulet King pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Her plea agreement included a waiver of appeal.

Three months after pleading guilty, King filed a pro se motion, requesting, among other things, to withdraw her plea based on coercion by law enforcement. She claimed that she "was taken out of her cell at the D.O.J. by a detective/witness without benifit [sic] of counsel, was questioned, intimidated, pressured and cooerced [sic] into her plea, then offered cookies and tea."

King said that she told her attorney about the incident, but her attorney took no action beyond questioning her about it. Later that day, neither King nor her lawyer mentioned the mystery visitor in the plea hearing. Instead, King affirmatively responded that no one had threatened or induced her to plead guilty, and that she was, in fact, guilty of the charges.

When, months later, King tried to withdraw her appeal, the district court apparently assumed the incident took place, but found the law enforcement conduct "was nowhere near approaching coercion." (Cookies < Coercion)

When determining whether to enforce an appeal waiver in a plea agreement, the Tenth Circuit considers:

  1. Whether the disputed appeal falls within the scope of the waiver of appellate rights,
  2. Whether the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his appellate rights, and
  3. Whether enforcing the waiver would result in a miscarriage of justice.

We're going to focus on the second prong.

Here, King argued that her waiver was not voluntary because she was coerced into accepting the plea agreement, which included the waiver of appeal. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that King failed to prove that she was coerced to agree to the plea and waiver. The appellate court cited three reasons.

First, the district court held a hearing regarding the incident with law enforcement, and determined that the conduct in question "was nowhere near approaching coercion." Second, King's argument regarding coercion is directly contrary to her acknowledgement during the plea hearing. Third, King acknowledged three times in her plea agreement that she entered the plea agreement voluntarily and without coercion. Based on those facts, the court concluded that King voluntarily and knowingly waived her appellate rights.

The courts seem to agree that King got a good deal with her plea agreement. Is she better off because her attorney didn't mention during the colloquy that the cops may have tried to ply her with cookies and tea?

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