United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622, 2 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 622 (2002)


mination, it was necessary for the Ninth Circuit to address the merits. Pp. 626-628.

2. The Constitution does not require the Government to disclose material impeachment evidence prior to entering a plea agreement with a criminal defendant. Although the Fifth and Sixth Amendments provide, as part of the Constitution's "fair trial" guarantee, that defendants have the right to receive exculpatory impeachment material from prosecutors, see, e. g., Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83, 87, a defendant who pleads guilty forgoes a fair trial as well as various other accompanying constitutional guarantees, Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U. S. 238, 243. As a result, the Constitution insists that the defendant enter a guilty plea that is "voluntary" and make related waivers "knowing[ly], intelligent[ly], [and] with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences." See, e. g., id., at 242. The Ninth Circuit in effect held that a guilty plea is not "voluntary" (and that the defendant could not, by pleading guilty, waive his right to a fair trial) unless the prosecutors first made the same disclosure of material impeachment information that they would have had to make had the defendant insisted upon a trial. Several considerations, taken together, demonstrate that holding's error. First, impeachment information is special in relation to a trial's fairness, not in respect to whether a plea is voluntary. It is particularly difficult to characterize such information as critical, given the random way in which it may, or may not, help a particular defendant. The degree of help will depend upon the defendant's own independent knowledge of the prosecution's potential case—a matter that the Constitution does not require prosecutors to disclose. Second, there is no legal authority that provides significant support for the Ninth Circuit's decision. To the contrary, this Court has found that the Constitution, in respect to a defendant's awareness of relevant circumstances, does not require complete knowledge, but permits a court to accept a guilty plea, with its accompanying waiver of various constitutional rights, despite various forms of misapprehension under which a defendant might labor. See, e. g., Brady v. United States, 397 U. S. 742, 757. Third, the very due process considerations that have led the Court to find trial-related rights to exculpatory and impeachment information—e. g., the nature of the private interest at stake, the value of the additional safeguard, and the requirement's adverse impact on the Government's interests, Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U. S. 68, 77—argue against the existence of the "right" the Ninth Circuit found. Here, that right's added value to the defendant is often limited, given that the Government will provide information establishing factual innocence under the proposed plea agreement, and that the defendant has other guilty-plea safeguards, see Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11. Moreover, the Ninth Circuit's rule could se-


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