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United States v. Bethea

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

March 29, 2018, Argued; April 26, 2018, Decided

No. 17-3468

Opinion

 [*865]  Flaum, Circuit Judge. Defendant-appellant Gregory Bethea pleaded guilty to possessing a counterfeit access device in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1). Due to serious health issues, Bethea appeared via videoconference at his combined guilty plea and sentencing hearing where he was sentenced to twenty-one months' imprisonment. He now argues his sentence should be vacated because Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43(a) required him to be physically present during his plea. We agree, and thus reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background

In 2014, Bethea used fraudulently obtained credit cards to purchase merchandise at retailers in Wisconsin. A grand jury subsequently indicted him for possessing a counterfeit access device [**2]  in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1). Bethea agreed to plead guilty in May 2017.

On December 1, 2017, the district judge conducted a combined guilty plea and sentencing hearing. The judge presided from his Madison, Wisconsin courtroom, while Bethea appeared via videoconference from Milwaukee because of his health issues and limited mobility.1 After conducting a plea colloquy, the judge accepted Bethea's guilty plea and moved to sentencing. Although the judge acknowledged Bethea's health as a complicating factor in imposing a sentence, he remained bothered that Bethea's illegal conduct allegedly continued well after his health issues supposedly worsened. Ultimately, the judge sentenced Bethea to twenty-one months' imprisonment, which fell at the bottom of the Guidelines range of twenty-one to twenty-seven months. Bethea timely appealed, arguing that the district court was not permitted to accept Bethea's guilty plea via videoconference.

II. Discussion

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888 F.3d 864 *; 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 10592 **; 2018 WL 1959638

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. GREGORY BETHEA, Defendant-Appellant.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 3:17-cr-008 — James D. Peterson, Chief Judge.

CORE TERMS

sentencing, videoconference, guilty plea, district court, physical presence, courtroom

Criminal Law & Procedure, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Conclusions of Law, Sentencing, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Initial Appearances, Initial Appearances, Procedural Requirements, Preliminary Proceedings, Arraignments, Presence of Defendants, Entry of Pleas, Trials, Judicial Discretion, Defendant's Rights, Right to Presence at Trial, Appeals, Reversible Error