624. Plea Negotiations with Public Officials—United States v. Richmond
In United States v. Richmond, 550 F. Supp. 144 (E.D.N.Y. 1982), the court questioned the propriety of using the plea bargaining process to negotiate the resignation from office of a Congressman. The Criminal Division believes that this decision is incorrect on the merits. United States Attorney personnel are therefore encouraged to continue to consider voluntary offers of resignation from office as a desirable feature in plea agreements with elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government.
The Richmond case involved a former Congressman from New York who, during 1982, became the subject of a federal criminal investigation. In an effort to dispose of his criminal liability, Congressman Richmond voluntarily agreed to resign his seat in the Congress and to plead guilty to federal tax, narcotics, and conflict of interest offenses. Thereafter, Richmond resigned his seat, took appropriate measures to withdraw his candidacy in the 1982 Congressional election, and entered guilty pleas to the aforementioned charges. At his sentencing a month later, the judge announced that, in his judgment, the resignation and withdrawal conditions of the plea agreement violated the separation of powers doctrine, and infringed upon the constitutional right of the public to select Congressmen of their choosing as articulated in Powell v. McCormick, 395 U.S. 486 (1969).
Although the Criminal Division considers the Richmond decision to have been incorrectly decided on its merits, the unusual procedural and factual setting of the case foreclosed judicial review in the Second Circuit. In this regard, the district judge's comments concerning the plea bargaining issue were made after the plea agreement terms dealing with resignation and withdrawal from candidacy had been fully performed by Congressman Richmond, and without the issue having been otherwise raised by the defendant. Since the plea agreement was in all other respects enforced, and since the Court's refusal to "accept" the resignation and non-candidacy terms did not demonstrably impact on the sentence imposed, the issue was moot and not easily amenable to appellate review.
The Richmond case is particularly troublesome from the standpoint of the orderly and efficient discharge of the Justice Department's responsibilities to protect the public from criminal abuse of the public trust by high federal officials. It purports to limit, without adequate legal justification, the latitude of federal prosecutors to reach voluntary settlements with defendants in significant corruption cases which equitably address and protect the important public interests that such prosecutions normally entail.