Mitchell v. United States, 526 U.S. 314 (1999)

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

No. 97-7541. Argued December 9, 1998—Decided April 5, 1999

Petitioner pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and of distributing cocaine, but reserved the right to contest at sentencing the drug quantity attributable under the conspiracy count. Before accepting her plea, the District Court made the inquiries required by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11; told petitioner that she faced a mandatory minimum of 1 year in prison for distributing cocaine, but a 10-year minimum for conspiracy if the Government could show the required five kilograms; and explained that by pleading guilty she would be waiving, inter alia, her right "at trial to remain silent." Indicating that she had done "some of" the proffered conduct, petitioner confirmed her guilty plea. At her sentencing hearing, three codefendants testified that she had sold 11/2 to 2 ounces of cocaine twice a week for 11/2 years, and another person testified that petitioner had sold her two ounces of cocaine. Petitioner put on no evidence and argued that the only reliable evidence showed that she had sold only two ounces of cocaine. The District Court ruled that as a consequence of petitioner's guilty plea, she had no right to remain silent about her crime's details; found that the codefendants' testimony put her over the 5-kilogram threshold, thus mandating the 10-year minimum; and noted that her failure to testify was a factor in persuading the court to rely on the codefendants' testimony. The Third Circuit affirmed.


1. In the federal criminal system, a guilty plea does not waive the self-incrimination privilege at sentencing. Pp. 321-327.

(a) The well-established rule that a witness, in a single proceeding, may not testify voluntarily about a subject and then invoke the privilege against self-incrimination when questioned about the details is justified by the fact that a witness may not pick and choose what aspects of a particular subject to discuss without casting doubt on the statements' trustworthiness and diminishing the factual inquiry's integrity. The privilege is waived for matters to which the witness testifies, and the waiver's scope is determined by the scope of relevant cross-examination. Brown v. United States, 356 U. S. 148, 154. The concerns justifying cross-examination at trial are absent at a plea colloquy, which protects

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