As Corrected June 24, 2015.
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí, U.S. District Judge. Hon. Silvia Carreño-Coll, U.S. Magistrate Judge.
Liza L. Rosado-Rodríguez, with whom Eric Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, and Vivianne M. Marrero, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Supervisor, Appeals Section, were on brief, for appellant.
Marí a L. Montañez Concepción, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Thomas F. Klumper, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.
Before Howard, Chief Judge, Selya and Lynch, Circuit Judges.
SELYA, Circuit Judge.
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(d)(1) provides that a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea " for any reason or no reason" at any time before the court
accepts it. The matter at hand requires us to decide a question of first impression in this circuit concerning the operation of this rule. The district court thought that the defendant's execution of a plea agreement, his consent to have a magistrate judge conduct the change-of-plea colloquy, his subsequent participation in such a hearing, the magistrate judge's recommendation that the tendered plea be accepted, and the defendant's failure to make a timeous objection to that recommendation combined to remove the defendant from the protective carapace of the rule. Concluding, as we do, that the district court erred, we vacate the judgment below and remand with directions to grant the defendant's plea-withdrawal motion and to conduct further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
We briefly rehearse the relevant facts and travel of the case. In July of 2012, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Puerto Rico returned an indictment charging defendant-appellant Juan Carlos Dávila-Ruiz and two co-defendants with attempted carjacking, see 18 U.S.C. § 2119, and the use of a firearm during a crime of violence, see id. § 924(c). All of them pleaded not guilty and, following some preliminary skirmishing, the government proposed plea agreements across the board.
On April 23, 2013 - with trial imminent - the defendant moved to change his plea. One of his co-defendants chose the same course, but the other (Edwin Suá rez-Rivera) opted for trial. The district court referred the defendant's motion to a magistrate judge with instructions to prepare a report and recommendation.
Before any hearing was held, the defendant entered into a plea agreement with the government. As part of this bargain, the defendant agreed to plead guilty to a substitute information charging him with the firearms offense in exchange for dismissal of the two-count indictment. The parties jointly agreed to recommend a 60-month sentence (the mandatory minimum under the statute of conviction).
On May 24, the magistrate judge convened a change-of-plea hearing. She began by informing the defendant of his right to have the hearing conducted by the district court. She then explained: " [If] by the end I am convinced that you are doing this intelligently, knowingly and voluntarily, then I [will] issue a report and recommendation telling the [district judge] that he should accept your guilty plea. But my recommendations may be reviewed by the [district judge] . . . ." The defendant acknowledged his understanding of this procedure and signed a waiver form (the Waiver) variously entitled " Waiver of Right to Trial by Jury" and " Consent to Proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge in a Felony Case for Pleading Guilty (Rule 11, Fed.R.Crim.P.)." Pertinently, the Waiver stated:
I HEREBY: Waive (give up) my right to trial before a United States District Judge and express my consent to proceed before a Magistrate-Judge while I plead guilty (Rule 11 proceedings) and the entry of a judgment of conviction upon the Magistrate-Judge's ...