OPINION OF THE COURT
ROSENN, Circuit Judge.
This is another of the recurring appeals which stem from imprecise language used by the parties in the bargaining process preceding a guilty plea. Appellant Phillip A. Cimmino was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute Schedule I controlled substances and a second count of possession with intent to distribute and distribution of 470.7 grams of heroin hydrochloride in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A).
The district court sentenced Cimmino to six years' imprisonment with an additional three years' special parole as required by 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A).
The record of Cimmino's plea proceedings reveals that the judge conscientiously explained the operation of "special parole," which in Cimmino's case would mandate a parole term of at least three years in addition to any custodial sentence he received under section 841.
Moreover, while protesting his sentence, Cimmino admitted that he knew special parole was applicable to him and accurately restated its terms. Hence, we cannot agree with the assertion in his brief to this court that he "misunderstood that special parole would be imposed in addition to his jail term."
The record, however, does reveal that Cimmino may reasonably have understood the promised maximum sentence of seven years to encompass the three year special parole term, rather than being in addition thereto. Before accepting Cimmino's plea, the court heard the Government explain the plea agreement:
Addressing himself to Cimmino, the district judge paraphrased the agreement:
At sentencing, five months later, the court imposed upon Cimmino a custodial sentence of six years to be followed by three years' special parole. Immediately Cimmino asked to withdraw his guilty plea, stating that he had agreed to a seven year maximum sentence and the judge had given him, in effect, with the special parole term, a nine year sentence. He stated that he was under the impression "that the maximum I could get is four years [imprisonment] and three years special parole, that is, seven years."
We note that neither the Government nor the district judge specified that the maximum sentence of confinement would be seven years. Rather, both spoke in the broader term of sentence and not confinement. Black's Law Dictionary 1528 (4th ed. rev. 1968) defines sentence as "[t]he judgment formally pronounced by the court . . . upon the defendant after his conviction in a criminal prosecution, awarding the punishment to be inflicted." (Emphasis supplied.) The definition clearly encompasses a special parole term.
In addition, as any sentence imposed under section 841(b) must include the special parole term, a seven year sentence thereunder may reasonably be construed to consist of four years' imprisonment and three years' special parole. We are persuaded that Cimmino reasonably could have misunderstood the length of time he would be subject to Government custody and supervision under a sentence "not to exceed seven years."
Having determined that Cimmino may well have been confused regarding the maximum sentence he faced, we must then consider the legal consequences that flow from this confusion.
Courts naturally look with a jaundiced eye upon any defendant who seeks to withdraw a guilty plea after sentencing on the ground that he expected a lighter sentence. Sullivan v. United States, 348 U.S. 170, 174-175, 75 S.Ct. 182, 99 L.Ed. 210 (1954); Johnson v. Massey, 516 F.2d 1001, 1002 (5th Cir. 1975); Paradiso v. United States, 482 F.2d 409 (3d Cir. 1973); Masciola v. United States, 469 F.2d 1057 (3d Cir. 1972) (per curiam). However, cases of disappointed but unfounded expectations must be carefully distinguished from those in which the defendant's expectations as to his sentence are predicated upon promises by the Government of statements from the court. United States v. Maggio, 514 F.2d 80, 87 (5th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 1032, 96 S.Ct. 563, 46 L.Ed.2d 405, 44 U.S. L.W. 3358 (1975); United States v. Valenciano, 495 F.2d 585, 588 (3d Cir. 1974).
Where the record shows that "circumstances as they existed at the time of the guilty plea, judged by objective standards, reasonably justified his mistaken impression," a defendant must be held to have entered his plea without full knowledge of the consequences and involuntarily. Mosher v. Lavallee, 491 F.2d 1346, 1348 (2d Cir.) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 906, 94 S.Ct. 1611, 40 L.Ed.2d 111 (1974). In the instant case, there is sufficient objective
Cimmino's guilty plea was accepted at a time when Rule 11 required that defendants be informed of the "consequences of the plea."
Cimmino's second argument concerns the Government's attack on his character despite the latter's promise not to take a position on sentencing. At the sentencing hearing, Cimmino's attorney had pleaded for leniency, citing the needs of Cimmino's wife and his two young children, his personal integrity and honor, and the belief that "by no stretch of the imagination is he a heavy weight or person in a position to deal in large quantities of drugs, although that seems to be the allegation by the members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Attorney's office."
The Government, after first agreeing to abstain from taking a position on sentencing, responded:
The Government seeks to justify its commentary on three grounds. First, it contends that Cimmino's attorney had misrepresented the facts, and the Government had an obligation to set the record straight. Second, it claims that the express declaration both at the beginning and at the conclusion of the prosecutor's remarks that it was leaving the sentencing decision to the judge excuses its brief comment. Finally, the Government at oral argument in this court stated its view that an agreement "to take no position on sentencing" only refers to a recommendation of the terms of the sentence to the district court and does not require the Government to stand mute, especially in the face of misrepresentations by the defendant to the court.
As to the first argument, it does not appear that Cimmino's counsel was making anything more than a paradigmatic argument for leniency in sentence. If there were elements of hyperbole present, it seems that the Government foreclosed any
The self-serving statement that it was fulfilling its part of the plea bargain and leaving the sentencing to the judge does not justify the Government's remarks even if the judge was not moved by them. In Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 92 S.Ct. 495, 30 L.Ed.2d 427 (1971), on which Cimmino largely relies, the United States Supreme Court was not swayed by the district judge's assurance that he was not influenced in his sentencing by the prosecutor's recommendation. The question facing the Santobello court and this court is whether the prosecutor fulfilled his promise when the guilty plea rested on it "in any significant degree." Id. at 262, 92 S.Ct. 495.
In Santobello, the prosecutor had promised not to recommend a sentence, but a new prosecutor did so. Although the circumstances of the instant case are not quite as blatant, the Government did promise to take no position on sentencing. Nonetheless, at sentencing it portrayed Cimmino as a major figure in organized crime who would endanger the community if he were on the streets. We see the Government's characterization as a transparent effort to influence the severity of Cimmino's sentence. Only a stubbornly literal mind would refuse to regard the Government's commentary as communicating a position on sentencing.
The Government's final argument that it would have breached the plea bargain only if it had actually recommended the terms of a sentence is thus answered. We believe that such a strict and narrow interpretation of its commitment is untenable, and we must reject it. An unqualified promise of the prosecution not to take a position on sentencing obviously jeopardizes the Government's position in the sentencing process and may require the Government to remain silent when it should stand up and speak. The Government, therefore, must also clearly understand the scope and depth of its commitment and the need for precision in plea bargaining. It may reach port in the plea bargaining process but founder there because of careless or loose language in its commitment. Once it makes a promise, Santobello requires strict adherence.
In view of the unkept plea bargain and of Cimmino's justifiable misunderstanding regarding the maximum sentence, the district court erred when it refused to permit Cimmino to withdraw his plea. Fed.R.Crim.P. 32(d) provides that "to correct manifest injustice the court after sentence may set aside the judgment of conviction and permit the defendant to withdraw his plea."
Where there is denial of due process, there is "manifest injustice" as a matter of law. United States v. McGahey, 449 F.2d 738 (9th Cir. 1971) (per curiam). Thus, the court's discretion under Rule 32(d) is strictly curtailed whenever a constitutional violation is shown. United States v. Washington, 341 F.2d 277, 281 n. 3 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 382 U.S. 850, 86 S.Ct. 96, 15 L.Ed.2d 89 (1965); 8A Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 32.07 at 32-108.1 (1975).
The judgment of the district court will be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.
21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) provides in pertinent part:
The comments state that § 2.1(a)(ii)(4) "is consistent with the prevailing view that unkept plea agreements are a basis for withdrawal." Id. at 57.