In U.S. v. Davila, No 10-15310 (Dec. 21, 2010), the Court vacated a guilty plea and remanded the case with instructions to assign the case to another district judge with the instruction that the magistrate judge who handled Davila’s case be disqualified, because, during a hearing before the Magistrate Judge, he told the defendant that there may be “no viable defenses” to the charges against him, and that the defendant would receive a more favorable sentence if he pled guilty than if he stood trial.
The Court noted that, even under plain error review, the magistrate judge’s comments were grounds for reversal. Federal Rule of Procedure 11(c)(1) establishes a “bright-line” that prohibits the participation of a judge in plea negotiations under any circumstances. Judicial participation is presumed when a judge contrasts the sentence a defendant would receive if he pled guilty with the sentence he would receive if he went to trial and was found guilty. No individualized prejudice need be shown. Accordingly, the Court vacated the conviction.