Brief filed: 05/17/2021
United States v. Perez-Perez
10th Circuit Court of Appeals; Case No. 19-2154
992 F.3d 970 (10th Cir. Mar. 29, 2021)
In a split decision, the Tenth Circuit (per Ebel, J.) affirmed on plain error review a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) (illegal or unlawful alien in possession of a firearm) notwithstanding the fact that during the plea colloquy the judge failed to inform the defendant of two essential elements of the crime: (1) he had to know his status as a prohibited person; and (2) he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States. There’s a spirited dissent by Judge Bacharach. Although the panel concluded Mr. Perez’s constitutional rights were violated due to these failings when he accepted the plea agreement, the majority nevertheless decided Mr. Perez had not established plain error. The amicus brief argues that the majority erred in not finding plain error pointing out that the evidence of Mr. Perez’s knowledge of his prohibited status was weak and that there was ample record support for this potential defense. The majority instead engaged in speculation about why Mr. Perez accepted the plea agreement (to avoid mandatory minimum charges) when the meagre factual record suggested instead that Mr. Perez did not accept the plea agreement to avoid these charges. Rather, the record is clear that Mr. Perez sought to avoid the trial penalty and to transfer out of the onerous conditions of pretrial detention, which he had suffered for more than 18 months. As a result of the plain error in this case, Mr. Perez is entitled to have his conviction vacated.
David Porter, NACDL, Sacramento, CA; John Ormonde, University of California, Davis, King Hall School of Law, Davis, CA.