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United States v. Davila

Case Name
United States v. Davila
569 U.S. 597
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Judge(s) - Majority
John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Kagan
Judge(s) - Concur
Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
11th Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States in exchange for the dismissal of thirty-three other counts. Both parties agreed that the magistrate judge clearly violated Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1) by participating improperly in the plea negotiations and encouraging defendant that pleading guilty was his best option. Interpreting Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(h)’s mandate that any variance from the plea-colloquy rules must be considered harmless error if it does not affect the defendant’s substantial rights, the Court held that automatic vacatur was not appropriate here or generally. Errors or omissions in Rule 11 instructions are procedural and must be assessed according to the harmless-error standard. A reviewing court must evaluate the error in light of the full record at the trial level. Defendant showed no prejudice. Defendant stated under oath that he was fully advised of his rights and had not been pressured or threatened to enter the plea. He instead argued that his plea was a strategic attempt to show the court how “vindictive” the prosecutor was. Defendant never even mentioned the magistrate’s comments at trial. Consequently, defendant did not satisfy his burden of showing that, but for the misconduct, he would not have pled guilty.

Key Quote

“[N]either Rule 11 itself, nor the Advisory Committee’s commentary on the Rule[,] singles out any instruction as more basic than others. And Rule 11(h), specifically designed to stop automatic vacaturs, calls for across-the-board application of the harmless-error prescription (or, absent prompt objection, the plain-error rule).” p.610