May 17, 2011
Sanchez-Martinez v. People Knowing, Intelligent, Voluntary Plea / 35(c) / Prosecution’s so-called ‘right’ to due process
Facts: In 2008, Mr. Sanchez-Martinez pled to a misdemeanor domestic violence (DV) charge. Subsequently, ICE instituted deportation proceedings against Mr. Sanchez-Martinez because of the DV conviction. Thus, Mr. Sanchez-Martinez sought to withdraw his plea based upon Rule 35(c)(2)(V) – newly discovered evidence. The new evidence: a witness who would testify that the complaining witness made up the story to avoid social services from taking her kids (Mr. Sanchez-Martinez claimed he never hit the woman, but that she hit him). Further, in the motion, Mr. Sanchez-Martinez claimed he was unfamiliar with the criminal proceedings, and thus, pled guilty to avoid what he thought would be two years in jail. During the 35(c) hearing, the prosecution went Christopher Darden on Mr. Sanchez-Martinez (Mr. Darden was the litigating genius who asked O.J. to try on the gloves which did not fit; hence, ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit’ – Johnny Cochran). The prosecution here asked questions to which it did not know the answers, had no rebuttal, and could never refute. The prosecutor instead assumed he knew the answers. The prosecutor asked in succession:
But you pled guilty to this charge in January of 2008?
Yes, because what I wanted to do is I wanted to get out, I wanted to go with my family, I didn't want to lose my job. Before we went into the court they sat me down with the interpreter and the DA or somebody, I think, and they say you're gonna plead guilty, ah huh, yes. That's when I told the judge that I was pleading guilty so he would let me out, and to pay and comply with everything else.
And the interpreter went through this document with you?
No. No, I—they only asked me to sign it.
You did sign it?
Yeah, they told me to sign it. They didn't read it to me.
Did you tell anybody that you needed help reading it?
No, I did not. No, they did not they just gave me the document, interpreter gave me and he said sign here, here and that's—that was it.
Issue: Whether the prosecution has a right to due process and notice that the validity of plea was at issue?
Held: Thankfully, the Court did not turn the purpose of rights (to limit government power) on its head, and grant ‘rights’ to the prosecution. Thus, the Court did not hold or decide the prosecution is entitled to due process and thus, notice. The Court reasoned given the Magistrate’s concerns about the validity of the plea, the Magistrate put the prosecution on notice that the validity of the plea was an issue. The Court reasoned, contrary to the prosecution’s assertion, that the Magistrate did not spontaneously hold a hearing on the validity of the plea because it was the prosecution’s own questioning, not the defense’s, that called the validity of the plea into question (Incidentally, Justice Coats with Justices Rice and Eid joining, dissented. Justice Coats found the whole affair very unfair to the prosecution because lack of notice and because Mr. Sanchez-Martinez just testified. That’s it. The prosecution had no opportunity to rebut his testimony, which Justices Coats, Rice, and Eid thought unfair. Hahahaha…too bad these three do not apply their abhorrence when cops “just testify” and the defense has not meaningful opportunity to rebut.)
Issue: Whether Mr. Sanchez-Martinez entered a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent plea when he pled guilty?
Reasoning: The Court raked Magistrate Bowen over the coals for allowing the Rule 11 plea. The Court found that Mr. Sanchez-Martinez did not understand English, Magistrate Bowen impermissibly relied on an interpreter, that Mr. Sanchez-Martinez did not understand the penalties, his rights, or court proceedings in the United States. Thus, the Court held Mr. Sanchez-Martinez did not knowingly, voluntarily or intelligently waive his rights.