Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

De La Garza: No Plain Error in Gov't Violation of Plea Agreement

In U.S. v. De La Garza, No. 06-13396 (Feb. 15, 2008), the Court affirmed the conviction of a defendant who pled guilty to conspiracy to possess more than five kilos of cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of the Marine Drug Law Enforcement Act ("MDLEA").
The Court first rejected the challenge to the guilty plea based on the defendant’s breach of the plea agreement. The Court agreed with De La Garza that the government breached the agreement when it argued that his credibility at sentencing was not "credible," when it had agreed in the plea to the very version of events to which De La Garza later testified. However, reviewing the issue for "plain error," the Court found no violation of De La Garza’ substantial rights, because the district court credited De La Garza’s testimony even as it imposed the sentence it did.
The Court also rejected De La Garza challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. The Court noted that the defendant, at the plea colloquy, admitted that his vessel was without nationality, and thus established the fact sufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction.