Sunday, February 09, 2020

Case o' The Week: Ninth Nixes Class Action - Chavez-Diaz and Appeals after Unconditional Pleas

The Honorable Judge Daniel Bress
  Class dismissed.
United States v. Chavez-Diaz, 2020 WL 562292 (9th Cir. Feb. 5, 2020), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Bress, joined by Judges Collins and Bea. 
  Hard-fought appeal by AFD Kara Hartzler, Federal Defenders of San Diego.  

Facts: Chavez-Diaz was one of the thousands of aliens swept up in the new border policies in San Diego. Charged with illegal entry, he and other aliens were segregated into separate court calendars with mass arraignments, pleas, sentencings and immediate removals. Id. at *2. He and other Section 1325 defendants were shackled during proceedings, forced to meet with counsel in the presence of U.S. Marshals in a converted garage, and suffered delays in presentment due to their detention in Border Patrol stations. Id.
  Chavez-Diaz raised equal protection and due process objections to these procedures, pleaded guilty without a plea agreement, and during the plea expressly asserted that he was “not waiving his appellate rights. He is not.” Id.
  After being sentenced by the magistrate judge he appealed to the district court. The district court held that Chavez-Diaz had not waived his constitutional challenges, but rejected them on the merits. Id.

Issue(s): “Because Chavez-Diaz did not enter a conditional plea expressly preserving his right to appeal particular issues, the threshold question in this case is whether Chavez-Diaz’s unconditional guilty plea waived his ability to raise the constitutional claims that he now advances.” Id. at *1.

Held: “We hold that Chavez-Diaz waived his right to appeal these claims, and that the district court’s conclusion otherwise rested on a misinterpretation of Class v. United States, . . . 138 S. Ct. 798 . . . (2018). We therefore reverse and remand with instructions to dismiss the appeal.” Id.
  “Chavez-Diaz through his guilty plea plainly waived his right to appeal his equal protection and due process claims. . . [T]hese are challenges to the constitutionality of case-related government conduct that takes place before the plea is entered.” . . . Chavez-Diaz waived his ability to raise these claims by pleading guilty.” Id. at *4 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Of Note: Wait – Chavez-Diaz expressly stated that he preserved his appeal when he pleaded guilty, but the Ninth slammed shut its courthouse doors and refused to tackle the merits. Can’t he now withdraw his guilty plea as involuntary?
  Judge Bress concludes that despite the express assertion of appellate rights at the plea, the plea was still knowing and voluntary. Id. at *6.

How to Use: The heart of this battle is the scope of the Mena-Blackledge exception, for appeals after unconditional pleas of guilt. That exception “allows for constitutionally-based appeals – despite an unconditional guilty plea – where the appeal, if successful, would mean that the government cannot prosecute the defendant at all.” Id. at *4 (emphasis in original). It was that exception upon which SCOTUS relied in Class, where it permitted a Second Amendment appeal to move forward despite an unconditional plea of guilt.
  Judge Bress distinguishes the Supreme’s Class decision from Chavez-Dias (and limits the Mena-Blackledge exception along the way). While both Class and Chavez-Diaz involved constitutional challenges that did not contest factual guilt, in Chavez-Diaz alone the defendant could still be retried even if his constitutional claims prevailed. That fact cost Chavez-Diaz his appeal, because he entered an unconditional plea of guilt below.
  In short, if you are hoping to raise a constitutional appeal after an unconditional plea of guilt, Chavez-Diaz merits a very close read.
For Further Reading: What appeals can one take, despite an unconditional plea of guilt? For an interesting overview of the circuit split on this question, see Class v. United States: an Imperfect Application of the Menna-Blackledge Doctrine, at 78 MDLR 382 (2019), available here.

Image of the Honorable Judge Daniel Bress from

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website at


Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home