U.S. v. Mendez
If the defendant is not properly informed about the elements of the alleged offense, the defendant's guilty plea may not be valid. In June 2010, the government charged the defendant with participation in a conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. To convict, the government must prove it was known to the defendant, or reasonably foreseeable, that the conspiracy involved a particular drug type and quantity. In March 2012, the defendant moved to withdraw his February 2011 guilty plea and argued that the elements of the offense were not accurately stated. When ruling on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, courts may consider: 1.) whether the defendant asserts his legal innocence; 2.) the amount of time between the guilty plea and the motion to withdraw the guilty plea; 3.) any prejudice to the government as a result of the withdrawal of the guilty plea; and 4.) whether a significant question exists about the voluntariness of the guilty plea. Here, the defendant claims legal innocence, because he allegedly did not know that the amount of cocaine in the transaction that he allegedly brokered was 500 grams or more. The defendant allegedly discussed whether the quantity would be one, two or three, which the government construed as one, two or three kilograms, and whether it would cost 33 or 34, which could have been hundreds or thousands of dollars. There was no evidence that the defendant possessed the cocaine or observed the exchange. The defendant did not admit that he knew that the transaction he allegedly brokered involved 500 grams or more of cocaine. A guilty plea should be an intelligent choice among alternative courses of action and that requires that the defendant know about the elements of the offense. The record failed to establish the defendant was informed adequately about the elements of the offense, and the court granted the defendant's motion to withdraw. "Defendant," wrote the court, "never received a complete and accurate explanation of the elements of the offense" to which he pled guilty and, as a result, the plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary.