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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Brandon Sample

Guilty Plea Does Not Foreclose Challenge To Constitutionality Of Conviction, U.S. Supreme Court Decides

by Brandon Sample, Esq.

Rodney Class pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a firearm on the U.S. Capitol grounds. Notwithstanding his guilty plea, Class appealed his conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Class argued that his conviction was unconstitutional because the statute that criminalized gun possession on Capitol grounds violated the Second Amendment.

The D.C. Circuit rejected Class’ challenge. According to the appeals court, Class’ guilty plea waived his right to challenge the constitutionality of his conviction.

Class sought and was granted certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the Court, framed the relevant legal question as “[d]oes a guilty plea bar a criminal defendant from later appealing his conviction on the ground that the statute of conviction violates the Constitution?” Answering that question in the negative, a 6-3 majority of the Court reversed.

The Court began its analysis by looking at 50 years of prior cases concerning the effect of a guilty plea on a subsequent challenge to a conviction. In Haynes v. United States, 390 U.S. 85, 87, n. 2 (1968), for instance, the Court noted its general recognition that a ...

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Habeas Relief Citing AEDPA Deference

by Brandon Sample, Esq.

If you are a state prisoner hoping to find a sympathetic ear for a federal habeas petition, two recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court illustrate the challenges one must overcome.

Kernan v. Cuero

Michael Cuero sought federal habeas release, arguing that the state breached his plea agreement. His original plea agreement called for a maximum sentence of “14 years and 4 months.” However, after Cuero pleaded guilty, the state realized that he was a habitual offender. The state then sought, and received, permission to amend its complaint. The amended complaint increased Cuero’s sentence from a maximum of 14 years and 4 months to a minimum of 25 years.

Cuero opposed the amendment, arguing that he should be sentenced to no more than 14 years and 4 months per the original plea agreement. But to remedy the apparent breach of the plea agreement, the state court merely permitted Cuero to withdraw his first plea. He later pleaded guilty to the amended complaint and was sentenced to 25 years.

Cuero argued in state court that he was entitled to specific performance of the original plea agreement, rather than being forced to withdraw his plea. The ...


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