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United States v. Hyde

Case Name
United States v. Hyde
520 U.S. 670
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
William Rehnquist
Judge(s) - Majority
William Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
9th Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud-related crimes in exchange for the government’s agreement to dismiss four other counts. The district court accepted defendant’s guilty plea, but deferred its decision on whether it would accept the plea agreement. Defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging duress from the government. The district court denied the motion because defendant had not provided a “fair and just reason” in compliance with Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(e). Though the Ninth Circuit reversed by holding that a defendant’s right to withdraw his plea is absolute, the Court disagreed. An absolute right would contradict the text of Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 and strip it of its meaning. The Court emphasized that guilty pleas and plea agreements need not be treated identically; they can be considered both separately and at different times. The Court compared the bargaining process to a contract under which defendant can rescind his performance—withdraw his guilty plea without complying with the “fair and just reason” standard—only if the court has already rejected the plea agreement. The Court rejected defendant’s proposed distinction between “fully accepted” and “conditionally accepted” pleas, given the great care with which pleas are made and considered.

Key Quote

“‘Were withdrawal automatic in every case where the defendant decided to alter his tactics and present his theory of the case to the jury, the guilty plea would become a mere gesture, a temporary and meaningless formality reversible at the defendant’s whim. In fact, however, a guilty plea is no such trifle, but a “grave and solemn act,” which is “accepted only with care and discernment.”‘” p.677