EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Am I Right?: Eastern District of Michigan Finds Rule 410 Doesn't Contain a Constitutionally Protected Right

Federal Rule of Evidence 410 states:

(a) Prohibited Uses. In a civil or criminal case, evidence of the following is not admissible against the defendant who made the plea or participated in the plea discussions:

(1) a guilty plea that was later withdrawn;

(2) a nolo contendere plea;

(3) a statement made during a proceeding on either of those pleas under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 or a comparable state procedure; or

(4) a statement made during plea discussions with an attorney for the prosecuting authority if the discussions did not result in a guilty plea or they resulted in a later-withdrawn guilty plea.

(b) Exceptions. The court may admit a statement described in Rule 410(a)(3) or (4):

(1) in any proceeding in which another statement made during the same plea or plea discussions has been introduced, if in fairness the statements ought to be considered together; or

(2) in a criminal proceeding for perjury or false statement, if the defendant made the statement under oath, on the record, and with counsel present.

In its recent opinion in Dozier v. Booker, 2013 WL 184000 (E.D.Mich. 2013), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan held that "nothing in the text of Federal Rule of Evidence 410 or its Michigan analogue even alludes to a constitutionally protected right." But was the court right?

Well, I guess in a certain sense, the court was right. Rule 410 certainly does not use the word "right," and the Rule simply speaks to the (in)admissibility of certain evidence and not to a right to have such evidence excluded. On the other hand, doesn't it make sense to look at the Supreme Court's most thorough discussion of the Rule, which is in United States v. Mezzanatto?

In Mezzanatto, the Court had to decide whether to enforce a waiver under which a defendant waived the protections of Rule 410 to get to the plea bargaining table, such that his statements made during plea negotiations would be admissible to impeach him should his case proceed to trial. The Ninth Circuit had found that such a waiver was unenforceable, but the Supreme Court disagreed, finding, inter alia, that

Respondent also goes to great lengths to establish a proposition that is not at issue in this case: that the plea statement Rules do not contain a blanket "impeachment" exception. We certainly agree that the Rules give a defendant the right not to be impeached by statements made during plea discussions, but that conclusion says nothing about whether the defendant may relinquish that right by voluntary agreement.

Now, this discussion is merely contained in a footnote, and the Court expressly states that the proposition "is not at issue in the case," making its conclusion dicta. That said, the Court pretty plainly construes Rule 410 as creating a right, albeit one that can be relinquished by voluntary agreement.

So, what's the relevance of this issue? In Booker, the petition brought a habeas action, claiming that the Michigan state courts erred by admitting statements that he made in violation of Rule 410. The Eastern District of Michigan, however, found that because Rule 410 does not contain a constitutionally protected right, "[p]etitioner would not be entitled to habeas relief merely because the admission of his statement violated M.R.E. 410."



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Isn't the court's reasoning obvious? There is a right. But the right is conferred by statute, not by the constitution. It isn't a "constitutional right."

Posted by: Question | Jan 29, 2013 9:03:10 AM

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