This morning the Court issued its decision in United States v. Davila . Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court; Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, which Justice Thomas joined.  In recent years, the Court has been very reluctant to hold that errors in a criminal proceeding are “structural” – that is, so serious that they require an automatic reversal of the defendant’s conviction, without any consideration of whether the defendant was prejudiced by the error.  This case involved a violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1), which prohibits judges from participating in plea negotiations:  a federal magistrate judge advised respondent Anthony Davila – who had been indicted for filing false tax returns – that it “might be a good idea” for Davila to plead guilty.  However, another subsection of Rule 11, subsection (h), provides that a “variance from the requirements” of Rule 11 is “harmless if it does not affect substantial rights.”  Davila eventually pleaded guilty, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed based on the magistrate’s statements, holding that Davila was not required to show that he was actually prejudiced by the judge’s participation.  The United States filed a petition for certiorari, which the Court granted.  As Rory Little reported after the oral argument, the Court seemed poised to reverse, and today it did.  Again demonstrating its aversion to designating trial errors as “structural,” it held that under Rule 11(b), the guilty plea does not need to be vacated if the record shows no prejudice to the defendant’s decision to plead guilty.

Vote alignment by ideology

Posted in U.S. v. Davila, Merits Cases

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Details on United States v. Davila, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 13, 2013, 10:56 AM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/details-on-united-states-v-davila/