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United States v. Mezzanatto

Case Name
United States v. Mezzanatto
513 U.S. 196
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Clarence Thomas
Judge(s) - Majority
Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy
Judge(s) - Concur
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, Stephen Breyer
Judge(s) - Dissent
David Souter, John Paul Stevens
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
9th Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant entered plea negotiations, voluntarily waived provisions of Fed. R. Evid. 410 and Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(e)(6), and agreed to the condition that any statements he made during the meeting with the prosecutor could be used to impeach his potentially contradictory testimony at trial. After negotiations crumbled, defendant testified, the prosecutor cross-examined him about his prior inconsistent statements, and the jury convicted. The Court upheld the conviction, noting that a party may waive any provision of a statute as long as Congress does not preclude waiver and such waiver is knowing and voluntary. Courts liberally enforce agreements to waive evidentiary rules, even when the parties subsequently object. The Court rejected each of the defendant’s three arguments. The plea-statement evidentiary Rules expressly consider a degree of party control that supports waiver, as the admission of plea statements for impeachment purposes enhances the trial’s truth-seeking function. While waiver may discourage some defendants from negotiating, many prosecutors are unwilling to proceed without it, causing the plea-bargaining process to falter altogether. Though defendants may face a dilemma between accepting waiver and forgoing plea discussions, the situation is no different from other difficult choices they must make when considering a risk of punishment.

Key Quote

“Because the plea-statement Rules were enacted against a background presumption that legal rights generally, and evidentiary provisions specifically, are subject to waiver by voluntary agreement of the parties, we will not interpret Congress’ silence as an implicit rejection of waivability.” p.203-204