Justice Souter, delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Government avoids reversal of a criminal conviction by showing that trial error, albeit raised by a timely objection, affected no substantial right of the defendant and was thus harmless. Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 52(a). A defendant who failed to object to trial error may nonetheless obtain reversal of a conviction by carrying the converse burden, showing among other things that plain error did affect his substantial rights. Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 52(b).
Rule 11(h) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure is a separate harmless-error rule applying only to errors committed under Rule 11, the rule meant to ensure that a guilty plea is knowing and voluntary, by laying out the steps a trial judge must take before accepting such a plea. Like Rule 52(a), it provides that a failure to comply with Rule 11 that "does not affect substantial rights shall be disregarded." Rule 11(h) does not include a plain-error provision comparable to Rule 52(b).
The first question here is whether a defendant who lets Rule 11 error pass without objection in the trial court must carry the burdens of Rule 52(b) or whether even the silent defendant can put the Government to the burden of proving the Rule 11 error harmless.
We hold that a silent defendant has the burden to satisfy the plain-error rule and that a reviewing court may consult the whole record when considering the effect of any error on substantial rights.
On February 28, 1997, respondent Alphonso Vonn was charged with armed bank robbery, under 18 U. S. C. §§ 2113(a) and (d), and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, under 18 U. S. C. § 924(c). Vonn appeared that day before a Magistrate Judge, who advised him of his constitutional rights, including "the right to retain and to be represented by an attorney of [his] own choosing at each and every sta[g]e of the proceedings." App. 15. Vonn said that he had heard and understood his rights, and the judge appointed counsel to represent him.
On March 17, 1997, three days after being indicted, Vonn, along with his appointed counsel, appeared in court for his arraignment. Again, the Magistrate Judge told Vonn about his rights, including the right to counsel at all stages of the proceedings. Vonn's counsel gave the court a form entitled "Statement of Defendant's Constitutional Rights," on which
On May 12, 1997, Vonn came before the court and indicated that he would plead guilty to armed bank robbery but would go to trial on the firearm charge. The court then addressed him and, up to a point, followed Rule 11(c)(3) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The judge advised Vonn of the constitutional rights he would relinquish by pleading guilty, but skipped the required advice that if Vonn were tried he would have "the right to the assistance of counsel."
Several months later, the stakes went up when the grand jury returned a superseding indictment, charging Vonn under an additional count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery. Although he first pleaded not guilty to this charge as well as the firearm count, at a hearing on September 3, 1997, Vonn said he intended to change both pleas to guilty. Again, the court advised Vonn of rights waived by guilty pleas, but failed to mention the right to counsel if he went to trial. This time, the prosecutor tried to draw the court's attention to its error, saying that she did not "remember hearing the Court inform the defendant of his right to assistance of counsel." Id., at 61. The court, however, may have mistaken the remark as going to Rule 11(c)(2), and answered simply that Vonn was represented by counsel.
Eight months later, Vonn moved to withdraw his guilty plea on the firearm charge. He did not, however, cite Rule 11 error but instead based his request on his own mistake
On appeal, Vonn sought to set aside not only the firearm conviction but the other two as well, for the first time making an issue of the District Judge's failure to advise him of his right to counsel at trial, as required by the Rule. The Court of Appeals agreed there had been error, and held that Vonn's failure to object before the District Court to its Rule 11 omission was of no import, since Rule 11(h) "supersedes the normal waiver rule," and subjects all Rule 11 violations to harmless-error review, 224 F.3d 1152, 1155 (CA9 2000) (citing United States v. Odedo, 154 F.3d 937 (CA9 1998)). The consequence was to put the Government to the burden of showing no effect on substantial rights.
We granted certiorari, 531 U.S. 1189 (2001), to resolve conflicts among the Circuits on the legitimacy of (1) placing the burden of plain error on a defendant appealing on the basis of Rule 11 error raised for the first time on appeal,
Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires a judge to address a defendant about to enter a plea of guilty, to ensure that he understands the law of his crime in relation to the facts of his case, as well as his rights as a criminal defendant. The Rule has evolved over the course of 30 years from general scheme to detailed plan, which now includes a provision for dealing with a slip-up by the judge in applying the Rule itself. Subsection (h) reads that "[a]ny variance from the procedures required by this rule which does not affect substantial rights shall be disregarded." The language comes close to tracking the text of Rule 52(a), providing generally for "harmless-error" review, that is, consideration of error raised by a defendant's timely objection, but subject to an opportunity on the Government's part to carry the burden of showing that any error was harmless, as having no effect on the defendant's substantial rights. See Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 52(a) ("Any error, defect, irregularity or variance which does not affect substantial rights shall be disregarded"); United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 734 (1993).
Rule 52(a), however, has a companion in Rule 52(b), a "plain-error" rule covering issues not raised before the district court in a timely way: "Plain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the court." When an appellate court considers error that qualifies as plain, the tables are turned on demonstrating the substantiality of any effect on
The question here is whether Congress's importation of the harmless-error standard into Rule 11(h) without its companion plain-error rule was meant to eliminate a silent defendant's burdens under the Rule 52(b) plain-error review, and instead give him a right to subject the Government to the burden of demonstrating harmlessness. If the answer is yes, a defendant loses nothing by failing to object to obvious Rule 11 error when it occurs. We think the answer is no.
Vonn's most obvious recourse is to argue from the text itself: Rule 11(h) unequivocally provides that a trial judge's "variance" from the letter of the Rule 11 scheme shall be disregarded if it does not affect substantial rights, the classic shorthand formulation of the harmless-error standard. It includes no exception for nonobjecting defendants.
Despite this unqualified simplicity, however, Vonn does not argue that Rule 11 error must always be reviewed on the 11(h) standard, with its burden on the Government to show an error harmless. Even though Rule 11(h) makes no distinction between direct and collateral review, Vonn does not claim even that the variant of harmless-error review applicable on collateral attack, see Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 638 (1993), would apply when evaluating Rule 11 error on habeas review. Rather, he concedes that the adoption of 11(h) had no effect on the stringent standard for collateral review of Rule 11 error under 28 U. S. C. § 2255 (1994 ed.), as established by our holding in United States v. Timmreck,
Whatever may be the significance of the text of Rule 11(h) for our issue, then, it cannot be as simple as the face of the provision itself. Indeed, the closest Vonn gets to a persuasive argument that Rule 11 excuses a silent defendant from the burdens of plain-error review is his invocation of the common interpretive canon for dealing with a salient omission from statutory text. He claims that the specification of harmless-error review in 11(h) shows an intent to exclude the standard with which harmless error is paired in Rule 52, the plain-error standard with its burdens on silent defendants. The congressional choice to express the one standard of review without its customary companion does not, however, speak with any clarity in Vonn's favor.
Support, however, is not readily found. In the first place, even if we indulge Vonn with the assumption that Congress meant to imply something by failing to pair a plain-error provision with the harmless-error statement in Rule 11(h), just what it would have meant is subject to argument. Vonn thinks the implication is that defendants who let Rule 11 error pass without objection are relieved of the burden on silent defendants generally under the plain-error rule, to show the error plain, prejudicial, and disreputable to the judicial system. But, of course, this is not the only "implication" consistent with Congress's choice to say nothing about Rule 11 plain error. It would be equally possible, as a matter
Recognition of the equivocal character of any claimed implication of speaking solely in terms of harmless error forces Vonn to look beyond the text in hope of finding confirmation for his reading as opposed to the one less hospitable to silent defendants. And this effort leads him to claim support in McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459 (1969), and the developments in the wake of that case culminating in the enactment of Rule 11(h). This approach, at least, gets us on the right track, for the one clearly expressed objective of Rule 11(h) was to end the practice, then commonly followed, of reversing automatically for any Rule 11 error, and that practice stemmed from an expansive reading of McCarthy. What that case did, and did not, hold is therefore significant.
When McCarthy was decided, Rule 11 was relatively primitive, requiring without much detail that the trial court personally address a defendant proposing to plead guilty and establish on the record that he was acting voluntarily, with an understanding of the charge and upon a factual basis supporting conviction. Id., at 462.
Vonn does not, of course, claim that McCarthy held that a silent defendant had no plain-error burden, but he says that this must have been the Court's understanding, or it would have taken McCarthy's failure to object to the trial judge's Rule 11 failings, combined with his failure to meet the requirements of the plain-error rule, as a bar to relief. This reasoning is unsound, however, for two reasons, the first being that not a word was said in McCarthy about the plainerror rule, or for that matter about harmless error. The opinion said nothing about Rule 52 or either of the rules by name. The parties' briefs said nothing. The only serious issue was raised by the Government's request to remand the case for a new evidentiary hearing on McCarthy's state of mind when he entered the plea, and not even this had anything
Vonn's attempt to read the McCarthy Court's mind is therefore purely speculative. What is worse, however, his speculation is less plausible than the view that the Court would probably have held that McCarthy satisfied the plainerror burdens if that had mattered. There was no question that the trial judge had failed to observe Rule 11, and the failing was obvious. So was the prejudice to McCarthy. Having had no explanation from the judge of the knowing and willful state of mind charged as of the time of the tax
Nor is there any persuasive reason to think that when the Advisory Committee and Congress later came to consider Rule 11(h) they accepted the view Vonn erroneously attributes to this Court in McCarthy. The attention of the Advisory Committee to the problem of Rule 11 error was not drawn by McCarthy so much as by events that subsequently invested that case with a significance beyond its holding. In 1975, a few years after McCarthy came down, Congress transformed Rule 11 into a detailed formula for testing a defendant's readiness to proceed to enter a plea of guilty, obliging the judge to give specified advice about the charge, the applicable criminal statute, and even collateral law. The Court in McCarthy had, for example, been content to say that a defendant would need to know of the right against self-incrimination and rights to jury trial and confrontation before he could knowingly plead. But the 1975 revision of Rule 11 required instruction on such further matters as cross-examination in addition to confrontation, see Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11(c)(3); the right to counsel "at . . . trial" even when the defendant stood in court with a lawyer next to him (as in this case), see ibid.; and even the consequences of any
Although the details newly required in Rule 11 colloquies did not necessarily equate to the importance of the overarching issues of knowledge and voluntariness already addressed in the earlier versions of the Rule, some Courts of Appeals felt bound to treat all Rule 11 lapses as equal and to read McCarthy as mandating automatic reversal for any one of them. See Advisory Committee's Notes on 1983 Amendments to Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11, 18 U. S. C. App., p. 1568 (hereinafter Advisory Committee's Notes) (citing United States v. Boone, 543 F.2d 1090 (CA4 1976); United States v. Journet, 544 F.2d 633 (CA2 1976)). This approach imposed a cost on Rule 11 mistakes that McCarthy neither required nor justified, and by 1983 the practice of automatic reversal for error threatening little prejudice to a defendant or disgrace to the legal system prompted further revision of Rule 11. Advisory Committee's Notes 1568.
The Advisory Committee reasoned that, although a rule of per se reversal might have been justified at the time McCarthy was decided, "[a]n inevitable consequence of the 1975 amendments was some increase in the risk that a trial judge, in a particular case, might inadvertently deviate to some degree from the procedure which a very literal reading of Rule 11 would appear to require." Advisory Committee's Notes 1568. After the amendments, "it became more apparent than ever that Rule 11 should not be given such a crabbed interpretation that ceremony was exalted over substance." Ibid.
Vonn thinks the Advisory Committee's report also includes a signal that it meant to dispense with a silent defendant's plain-error burdens. He stresses that the report cited Courts of Appeals cases of "crabbed interpretation" that had given relief to nonobjecting defendants. By proposing only a harmless-error amendment to correct the mistakes made
We think, rather, that the significance of Congress's choice to adopt a harmless-error rule is best understood by taking the Advisory Committee at its word. "It must . . . be emphasized that a harmless error provision has been added to Rule 11 because some courts have read McCarthy as meaning that the general harmless error provision in Rule 52(a) cannot be utilized with respect to Rule 11 proceedings." Id., at 1569. The Committee said it was responding simply to a claim that the harmless-error rule did not apply. Having pinpointed that problem, it gave a pinpoint answer. If instead the Committee had taken note of claims that "Rule 52" did not apply, or that "neither harmless-error nor plain-error rule applied," one could infer that enacting a harmless-error rule and nothing more was meant to rule out anything but harmless-error treatment. But by providing for harmless-error review in response to nothing more than the claim that harmless-error review would itself be erroneous, the Advisory Committee implied nothing more than it said, and it certainly did not implicitly repeal Rule 52(b) so far as it might cover a Rule 11 case.
A further reason to doubt that Congress could have intended Vonn's position is the tendency it would have to undercut the object of Rule 32(e), which governs withdrawing a plea of guilty by creating an incentive to file withdrawal motions before sentence, not afterward. A trial judge is authorized to grant such a presentence motion if the defendant carries the burden of showing a "fair and just reason" for withdrawal, and a defendant who fails to move for withdrawal before sentencing has no further recourse except "direct appeal or . . . motion under 28 U. S. C. 2255," subject to the rules covering those later stages. Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 32(e). Whatever the "fair and just" standard may require on presentence motions,
The final question goes to the scope of an appellate court's enquiry into the effect of a Rule 11 violation, whatever the review, plain error or harmless. The Court of Appeals confined itself to considering the record of "the plea proceeding," 224 F. 3d, at 1156, applying Circuit precedent recognizing that the best evidence of a defendant's understanding when pleading guilty is the colloquy closest to the moment he enters the plea. While there is no doubt that this position serves the object of Rule 11 to eliminate wasteful post hoc probes into a defendant's psyche, McCarthy, 394 U. S., at 470, the Court of Appeals was more zealous than the policy behind the Rule demands. The Advisory Committee intended the effect of error to be assessed on an existing record, no question, but it did not mean to limit that record strictly to the plea proceedings: the enquiry "`must be resolved solely on the basis of the Rule 11 transcript' and the other portions (e. g., sentencing hearing) of the limited record made in such cases." Advisory Committee's Notes 1569 (quoting United States v. Coronado, 554 F.2d 166, 170, n. 5 (CA5 1977)).
True, language in McCarthy ostensibly supports the position taken by the Court of Appeals (which did not, however, rest on it); we admonished that "[t]here is no adequate substitute
Here, however, there is a third source of information, outside the four corners of the transcript of the plea hearing and Rule 11 colloquy, but still part of the record. Transcripts brought to our attention show that Vonn was advised of his right to trial counsel during his initial appearance before the Magistrate Judge and twice at his first arraignment. The record shows that four times either Vonn or his counsel affirmed that Vonn had heard or read a statement of his rights and understood what they were. Because there are circumstances in which defendants may be presumed to recall information provided to them prior to the plea proceeding, cf. Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 618 (1998) (a defendant with a copy of his indictment before pleading guilty is presumed to know the nature of the charge against him), the record of Vonn's initial appearance and arraignment is relevant in fact, and well within the Advisory Committee's understanding of "other portions . . . of the limited record" that should be open to consideration. It may be considered here.
The transcripts covering Vonn's first appearance and arraignment were not, however, presented to the Court of Appeals. Probably owing to that court's self-confinement to a
We therefore vacate the Court of Appeals's judgment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice Stevens, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
For the reasons stated in Part III of the Court's opinion, I agree that the effect of a violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure should be evaluated on the basis of the entire record, rather than just the record of the plea colloquy, and that a remand is therefore required. Contrary to the Court's analysis in Part II of its opinion, however, I am firmly convinced that the history, the text of Rule 11, and the special office of the Rule all support the conclusion, "urged by the Government" in McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 469 (1969), that the burden of demonstrating that a violation of that Rule is harmless is "place[d] upon the Government," ibid.
In McCarthy, after deciding that the trial judge had not complied with Rule 11, the Court had to "determine the effect of that noncompliance, an issue that ha[d] engendered a sharp difference . . . among the courts of appeals." Id., at 468. The two alternatives considered by those courts were the automatic reversal rule that we ultimately unanimously endorsed in McCarthy and the harmless-error rule urged by
During the years preceding the 1983 amendment to Rule 11, it was generally understood that noncompliance with Rule 11 in direct appeal cases required automatic reversal. See Advisory Committee's Notes on 1983 Amendments to Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11, 18 U. S. C. App., p. 1568 (hereinafter Advisory Committee's Notes) (citing United States v. Boone, 543 F.2d 1090 (CA4 1976); United States v. Journet, 544 F.2d 633 (CA2 1976)). Thus, prior to the addition of Rule 11(h), neither plain-error
Congress' decision to apply only Rule 52(a)'s harmlesserror standard to Rule 11 errors is tailored to the purpose of the Rule. The very premise of the required Rule 11 colloquy is that, even if counsel is present, the defendant may not adequately understand the rights set forth in the Rule unless the judge explains them. It is thus perverse to place the burden on the uninformed defendant to object to deviations from Rule 11 or to establish prejudice arising out of the judge's failure to mention a right that he does not know he
Despite this implausible scenario, and to support the result that it reaches, the Court's analysis relies upon an image of a cunning defendant, who is fully knowledgeable of his rights, and who games the system by sitting silently as the district court, apparently less knowledgeable than the defendant, slips up in following the dictates of Rule 11. See, e. g., ante, at 63 ("[A] defendant loses nothing by failing to
The express inclusion in Rule 11 of a counterpart to Rule 52(a) and the omission of a counterpart to Rule 52(b) is best understood as a reflection of the fact that it is only fair to place the burden of proving the impact of the judge's error on the party who is aware of it rather than the party who is unaware of it. This burden allocation gives incentive to the judge to follow meticulously the Rule 11 requirements and to the prosecutor to correct Rule 11 errors at the time of the colloquy. The Court's approach undermines those incentives.
I would remand to the Court of Appeals to determine whether, taking account of the entire record, the Government has met its burden of establishing that the District Court's failure to inform the respondent of his right to counsel at trial was harmless.
"The court may refuse to accept a pleaof guilty, and shall not accept such plea or a plea of nolo contendere without first addressing the defendant personally and determining that the plea is made voluntarily with understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea. . . . The court shall not enter a judgment upon a plea of guilty unless it is satisfied that there is a factual basis for the plea."
Vonn's final retort that application of the plain-error rule would tend to leave some "unconstitutional pleas" uncorrected obviates the question in this case, which is who bears the burden of proving that Rule 11 error did or did not prejudice the defendant: the Government or the defendant?