The Story of Rule 410 and United States v. Mezzanatto: Using Plea Statements at Trial
Vanderbilt University - Law School
In 1975 Congress simultaneously adopted Federal Rule of Evidence 410 and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(e)(6), both of which prohibited, in virtually identical language, evidentiary use of withdrawn guilty pleas and statements made during failed plea negotiations. Twenty years later, in United States v. Mezzanatto, the United States Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant may waive the protection provided in these rules. This paper, to be published in Foundation Press' Evidence Stories, is the story of those rules and that case.
The story behind the adoption of Rule 410 and its sister rule of criminal procedure is byzantine, but is worth telling because it exemplifies how Congress uses evidentiary rules to promote public policy, in this case a policy bolstering plea bargaining. The story of Mezzanatto is even more important because, despite its relative anonymity, it has had a major impact on criminal procedure and may soon have the same type of impact on evidence law. Using Mezzanatto as a springboard, the lower courts have put a serious dent in Rule 410, to the point where waiver of its protections is now the norm and the options of defense attorneys who go to trial after failed negotiations are severely restricted. Indeed, today an argument can be made that Mezzanatto is the most important decision on plea bargaining since Santobello v. New York explicitly authorized the practice. The opinion's potential significance for evidence rules is almost as profound, because it affects them in two different ways. First, Mezzanatto helped establish new ground rules for interpreting the federal evidence provisions, by making clear that their plain meaning does not always govern. Second, it was the first case in which the Court explicitly recognized that evidence rules, including those meant to further societal goals, could be waived by individual litigants, a precedent that has far-ranging implications for criminal and civil law practice.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 20
Keywords: plea bargaining, Rule 410, Mezzanatto, waiverworking papers series
Date posted: April 21, 2006
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