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United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622 (2002)

Legal Research Home > United States Supreme Court > 536 U.S. > United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622 (2002)

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622

OCTOBER TERM, 2001

Syllabus

UNITED STATES v. RUIZ

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 01-595. Argued April 24, 2002—Decided June 24, 2002

After immigration agents found marijuana in respondent Ruiz's luggage, federal prosecutors offered her a "fast track" plea bargain, whereby she would waive indictment, trial, and an appeal in exchange for a reduced sentence recommendation. Among other things, the prosecutors' standard "fast track" plea agreement acknowledges the Government's continuing duty to turn over information establishing the defendant's factual innocence, but requires that she waive the right to receive impeachment information relating to any informants or other witnesses, as well as information supporting any affirmative defense she raises if the case goes to trial. Because Ruiz would not agree to the latter waiver, the prosecutors withdrew their bargaining offer, and she was indicted for unlawful drug possession. Despite the absence of a plea agreement, Ruiz ultimately pleaded guilty. At sentencing, she asked the judge to grant her the same reduced sentence that the Government would have recommended had she accepted the plea bargain. The Government opposed her request, and the District Court denied it. In vacating the sentence, the Ninth Circuit took jurisdiction under 18 U. S. C. 3742; noted that the Constitution requires prosecutors to make certain impeachment information available to a defendant before trial; decided that this obligation entitles defendants to the information before they enter into a plea agreement; ruled that the Constitution prohibits defendants from waiving their right to the information; and held that the "fast track" agreement was unlawful because it insisted upon such a waiver.

Held:

1. Appellate jurisdiction was proper under 3742(a)(1), which permits appellate review of a sentence "imposed in violation of law." Respond-ent's sentence would have been so imposed if her constitutional claim were sound. Thus, if she had prevailed on the merits, her victory would also have confirmed the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction. Although this Court ultimately concludes that respondent's sentence was not "im-posed in violation of law" and therefore that 3742(a)(1) does not authorize an appeal in a case of this kind, it is familiar law that a federal court always has jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction. See United States v. Mine Workers, 330 U. S. 258, 291. In order to make that deter-

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