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United States of America v. Brandon Reeves Tyerman

June 9, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
BRANDON REEVES TYERMAN, APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: February 17, 2011

Before SMITH, GRUENDER, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

Brandon Reeves Tyerman challenges his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), arguing that the district court erred in denying his request to withdraw his Alford plea*fn1 because he had the absolute right to withdraw his guilty plea under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(d)(1). We agree and accordingly reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.*fn2

I. Background

Pursuant to a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C)*fn3 plea agreement, Tyerman entered an Alford plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of § 922(g)(1).*fn4 The plea agreement called for a sentence of 50 months' imprisonment, to run consecutive to Tyerman's state court sentence.

At the change-of-plea hearing, Tyerman confirmed to the district court that he had entered into a plea agreement with the government and had read the plea agreement before he signed it. The court explained to Tyerman that it could only accept Tyerman's guilty plea if it was convinced of three things:

1. The only reason you're pleading guilty is because you think the Government can prove you guilty by a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, okay?

2. You understand that by pleading guilty, as opposed to being found guilty, you give up important rights that you would otherwise have under the Constitution, and under the rules and the statutes of the United States. Do you understand that?

Tyerman answered, "Yes." The court then stated:

The third thing you have to understand, and I have to make certain you understand before I'm allowed the discretion to accept your plea, is that you know the maximum punishments that could come to you as a result of your conviction of Count 3 of the superseding indictment; do you understand that?

Tyerman answered, "Yes, but it's my understanding, and you just correct me if I'm wrong, that if the Court decides to impose more than what's agreed, that I have the right to withdraw the plea." The court responded that Tyerman was "absolutely right." Then, the court stated:

And so you understand that if I don't accept the agreed-upon sentence that you and the Government have agreed to in paragraph 4 of the plea agreement, Mr. Tyerman, that you would be allowed the opportunity to withdraw your plea, go to trial, and your not guilty plea would be reinstated? Do you understand that?

Tyerman answered, "That is the case, Your Honor."

Tyerman also confirmed his understanding that he was giving up or waiving his rights to a jury trial. When asked whether he understood that, if the court accepted his plea, such plea "has the same legal impact as if the jury heard all of the evidence, returned a verdict of guilty against you," Tyerman responded, "Yeah." Tyerman also understood that he had the right to persist in his previously made plea of not guilty and indicated his understanding that his "plea is a waiver or a giving up of all [his] important constitutional and trial rights" that the court previously described. He verified that he was "pleading guilty today because [his] plea is voluntary" and that his "decision to plead guilty [was not] the result of any promises, other than the written promises that appear in the plea agreement."

The court asked Tyerman whether he "believe[d] that based upon the facts recited by the Assistant U.S. Attorney, that the Government has sufficient evidence that a jury would find [him] guilty of Count 3 of the indictment by a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt," and Tyerman answered, "Yes, Your Honor." Then the court stated:

Mr. Tyerman, I'm going to put off accepting your plea because I want the opportunity to review the presentence report [(PSR)] . . .

To the extent that [the probation officer] can give this some priority, I'd appreciate it. I never-I've tried one other Alford plea in my 12 years, three months, two days, and two hours here, and I've rejected that, so I'm very concerned that this meets the legal requirements. Both of the lawyers have worked hard on it, and I want to make sure that if it's not something I can accept, that we give Mr. Tyerman the right to withdraw, if he needs to withdraw, and if we can, we need to sentence him.

I'm going to put off accepting your plea until the preparation of the ...


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