The Supreme Court recently started its newest term, hearing arguments on various cases covering various matters. In the first week of argument, the court heard the case of Class v. United States which dealt with what claims are waived when a defendant pleads guilty to charge.
The case originated in May of 2013. The defendant and appellant, Rodney Class, was arrested for having weapons on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. A self-proclaimed “constitutional bounty hunter,” Class “travels around the country with guns and other weapons in order to help enforce federal criminal laws against judges who he believes have acted unlawfully.” He had come to Washington, D.C. as he had “hoped to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill that day who would sign off on paperwork that would make his title official.”
Class later decided to plead guilty to the charge. According to Scotusblog, “[t]he plea agreement's written waiver of ‘Appeal Rights' barred an appeal of his sentence, but not expressly of his conviction or of any specific arguments.” Nor did the plea “expressly reserve a right to present any specific issues on appeal.”
According to Courthouse News, “[w]hen he accepted his plea he acknowledged he would give up a number of constitutional rights, such as the right to trial and to cross-examine witnesses as well as the government's burden of proof.” Class was told this information but was also told that he “could appeal if he believed his plea was involuntary, that there was a problem with the procedure or that the sentence imposed against his was illegal.” The plea also “did not explicitly state that he waived his right to challenge the constitutionality of the gun law on appeal.”
Class appealed, contesting the constitutionality of the law. Later on, the government started arguing that Class had waived his right to challenge the constitutionality of the law and the D.C. Circuit sided with them.
At oral argument, Class' attorney stated that “the government must make abundantly clear in plea agreements if it wants to prevent people from bringing constitutional challenges on appeal.” The justices questioned the argument, “posing a series of questions about where the line is for what appeals a guilty plea naturally prevents.” Likewise, the justices “were also highly skeptical” of the government's “claim that guilty pleas implicitly waive a defendant's right to future constitutional challenges because any other arrangement would allow defendants to ‘silently' sit on future challenges that would undercut the benefit the government gains from cutting a plea deal.”
The justices will now author an opinion on the case and determine whether Class can in fact challenge the constitutionality of the law he was convicted under. If you wish to listen to oral argument, you can do so on the Supreme Court's website.