U.S. v. Hernandez-Becerra – Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Court: Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Case No.: 
Hearing Date: 

Case Description:
The case involves a noncitizen defendant-appellant who, like others, was prosecuted through Operation Streamline (“Streamline”), the Department of Justice’s fast-track, “zero-tolerance” prosecution program for alleged violations of 8 USC 1325 (illegal entry). Defendants are subjected to detention conditions that lead to serious cognitive impairments, including attention problems, increased suggestibility, impaired memory, and slower mental processing speeds. While still suffering from the acute physical and mental effects of their detention, defendants are transferred for criminal prosecution directly to Streamline proceedings, where they are quickly processed en masse in abbreviated hearings. The issue presented is whether magistrate judges reversibly err when failing to ensure that a defendant’s plea is knowing, voluntary, and intelligent where a defendant raises concerns about the coercive nature of the proceedings that materially affects their cognitive, emotional, and physical capacities.

Amicus Description:
WDA joined 41 leading nonprofit organizations, immigrant rights and community groups, law clinics, and mental health providers as amici curiae. Amici argue that it is a court’s duty to ensure that a defendant’s guilty plea is knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 (“Rule 11”), which enshrines the due process safeguards required by the Constitution, this duty requires a more searching inquiry into the voluntary, knowing, and intelligent nature of each defendant’s plea—not merely a generalized, rote colloquy. Such an inquiry should include questions about how the detention conditions and procedural shortcuts have affected the mental state of each defendant.