Jefferson Memorial

Eliminating uncertainty through a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea

Jamison KoehlerCriminal Procedure, Sentencing

Rule 11(c)(1)(C) pleas are all the rage in D.C. 

With word spreading throughout the D.C. jail, every defendant is either entering into one or wondering why he or she was not offered one.


I had a client a while back who was about to enter into what I believed was a favorable plea agreement.   

The agreement was the result of intensive negotiations with the government, and I had been to see him multiple times at the jail to make sure he was comfortable with the final agreement.

When I went back to see him in the cell block on the morning of the plea, he was being held with other inmates – all awaiting their own hearings – who were convinced that the only way to resolve a plea these days was through an 11(c)(1)(C) plea.

These inmates were adamant – and vocal. 

Legal advice from other inmates at the jail is a continuing problem for criminal defense lawyers.  As we often say in the defense bar, if your cell mate is such a legal genius, what is he doing in jail with you?


Rule 11 of the D.C. Rules of Criminal Procedure governs guilty pleas in the District. 

Section (c)(1)(C) provides for a plea agreement in which both sides agree on the sentence that will be imposed.  The only role for the judge – other than to preside over the proceedings — is to decide whether or not to accept the plea. 

Rule 11(c)(1)(C) pleas are great for cases in which defendants seek certainty.  After all, the first thing most defendants want to know when considering a plea offer is how much time the deal will result in.

Defendants want the bottom line.  They hate to hear the lawyerly disclaimer of “well, it all depends,” followed by a discussion of sentencing guidelines, mitigating and aggravating factors, etc.  

Rule 11(c)(1)(C) solves this problem.

Such pleas can also limit exposure in cases in which the defense does not trust the judge.   

But Rule 11(c)(1)(C) may not always be the golden bullet it is sometimes made out to be, notwithstanding its glowing reputation at the jail.

For one thing, since these pleas require the concurrence of both parties, such pleas only work when the parties have a similar view of the case. 

For another, the fact that you are agreeing to a sentence that is acceptable to the government might be a red flag that perhaps you could do better, at least when you are in front of a sympathetic judge. In that case, it might not make sense to lock yourself into a particular sentence. 

In other words, things are never quite as simple as they may appear.  That is equally true with respect to this type of plea, even if such subtleties may be difficult to convey to a group of anxious and angry defendants in a crowded cell block.