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Mabry v. Johnson

Case Name
Mabry v. Johnson
467 U.S. 504
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
John Paul Stevens
Judge(s) - Majority
Warren Burger, William Brennan, Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, William Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
8th Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant was tried and convicted for murder, burglary, and assault. The murder conviction was later reversed by the state Supreme Court. While serving concurrent sentences for the burglary and assault charges, defendant was then offered a plea to the murder charge. The plea offer was a recommended sentence of 21 years to run concurrent to the current sentences in return for pleading guilty. A few days later, the defendant’s attorney called to accept the offer, but was informed that “a mistake had been made” and the offer was withdrawn. Instead, the prosecution offered a 21 year sentence to run consecutive to the current sentences. Defendant elected to stand trial, but ultimately accepted the State’s second offer. Defendant later petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus to vacate his plea. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction. A plea may be challenged as a violation of one’s procedural due process rights if its “consensual character” is questionable such that a defendant was not fairly apprised of its consequences. A defendant is entitled to relief when the prosecution bases the agreement on false premises and subsequently breaches its promise. Defendant could not successfully collaterally attack his guilty plea here as the State did not deceive defendant. Informed by the advice of competent counsel and a full awareness of the consequences, the plea was voluntary, knowing, and intelligent.

Note: Abrogated in part by Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129 (2009). “[Mabry’s] conclusion that the conviction cannot stand is only sometimes true (if that is the remedy the court prescribes for the breach). And even when the conviction is overturned, the reason is not that the guilty plea was unknowing or involuntary.” (footnote 1)

Key Quote

“A plea bargain standing alone is without constitutional significance; in itself it is a mere executory agreement which, until embodied in the judgment of a court, does not deprive an accused of liberty or any other constitutionally protected interest.” p.507