Criminal Law Reform issue image

Class v. United States

Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Last Update: May 26, 2017

What's at Stake

Whether a guilty plea inherently waives a defendant’s right to challenge the constitutionality of his statute of conviction.


In two prior Supreme Court decisions, Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21 (1974), and Menna v. New York, 423 U.S. 61 (1975), the Court held that a defendant who pleads guilty can still raise on appeal any constitutional claim that does not depend on challenging his “factual guilt.” In the years since Blackledge and Menna, the circuit courts have divided on whether a defendant’s challenge to the constitutionality of his statute of conviction survives a plea or instead is inherently waived as part of the concession of factual guilt. In this case, petitioner was arrested and charged with possessing a weapon in his car in a parking lot on the Capitol Grounds, where all weapons are prohibited pursuant to 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e). In the district court, after the petitioner argued unsuccessfully that his indictment was in violation of his rights under the 2nd and 14th Amendments, he pled guilty. Petitioner appealed, and the D.C. Court of Appeals held that a guilty plea inherently waives all constitutional claims. In an amicus brief filed by the ACLU and NACDL, we argue that a guilty plea, without more, poses no bar to a substantive constitutional challenge to the statute of conviction, and that the government’s proposed alternatives to such challenges on direct review – namely, securing a conditional guilty plea under Rule 11(a)(2) or attempting to raise a substantive challenge on collateral review—are insufficient alternatives.

Support our on-going litigation and work in the courts Donate now

Learn more about the issues in this case