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Mitchell v. United States

Case Name
Mitchell v. United States
526 U.S. 314
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Anthony Kennedy
Judge(s) - Majority
Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
Judge(s) - Dissent
Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
3rd Circuit
Decision Year


Without any plea agreement, defendant pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and three counts of distributing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school or playground. Defendant reserved the right to contest the quantity of drugs attributed to her, which would be determined at her sentencing hearing. The district court explained that, in entering a guilty plea, defendant waived her right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that a guilty plea does not waive the privilege in the sentencing phase and that the sentencing court may not draw adverse inferences from a defendant’s silence. The Fifth Amendment prevents a defendant from being “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” and sentencing proceedings are clearly part of “any criminal case.” Waiving a right to trial and its attendant privileges does not constitute a waiver of the privileges that exist “beyond the confines” of trial. The privilege terminates when the sentence has been given and the conviction becomes final. Though the guilty plea and statements or admissions during plea colloquy are later admissible against a defendant, such evidence is not necessarily a waiver of her Fifth Amendment privileges.

Key Quote

“The purpose of a plea colloquy is to protect the defendant from an unintelligent or involuntary plea. The Government would turn this constitutional shield into a prosecutorial sword by having the defendant relinquish all rights against compelled self-incrimination upon entry of a guilty plea, including the right to remain silent at sentencing.” p.322