Court rules in plain-error forfeiture case

usscpoolToday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Puckett v. U.S. that the plain-error test must be used to determine whether a defendant’s claim that the government breached a plea agreement is forfeited. The case involved a defendant who agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence, but committed another crime before sentencing, causing the prosecutors to seek – and the judge to impose – a harsher sentence. On appeal, the defendant raised for the first time the claim that the government breached the plea agreement. The appellate court applying the plain-error standard, found that the defendant did not show we was prejudiced by the error.

Writing for the 7-2 majority affirming the decision, Justice Antonin Scalia said requiring defendants to raise such an issue at the trial level is important to prevent defendants from “gaming” the system by waiting to see what sentence he gets and “then seeking a second bite at the apple by raising the claim” on appeal. Justices David Souter and John Paul Stevens dissented.

The opinion is available here.

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