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United States v. Tran

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Northern Division

March 11, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
Phong Dinh Tran.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WILLIAM D. QUARLES, Jr., District Judge.

On September 23, 2014, Phong Dinh Tran pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. On February 17, 2015, Tran moved to withdraw his guilty plea. On March 11, 2015, the Court held a hearing on the motion. For the following reasons, the motion was denied.

I. Background

On November 19, 2013, Tran was indicted in a two-count complaint with conspiracy to commit bank fraud (Count I) and bank fraud (Count II). ECF No. 11. Tran is a Vietnamese citizen who reads, writes, and understands English, "but not real well."[1] Tr. of Re-arraignment, September 23, 2014 (hereinafter, "Hr'g Tr.") at 6-8.

Tran entered into a plea agreement with the Government, under which he agreed to plead guilty to Count I of the indictment. ECF No. 29. On September 23, 2014, the Court held a re-arraignment and Rule 11 hearing. ECF No. 28. At the beginning of the hearing the Clerk swore in Minh Nguyen as interpreter. Hr'g Tr. at 2. Immediately after being sworn and introducing himself for the record, Nguyen told the Court, "the Interpreter would like to let you know, too, that the Defendant speak[s] a fair amount of English, and wishes the Interpreter just to stand by in case he need[s] help." Id. The Court agreed to the request, and neither Tran nor his counsel objected to Nguyen's representation. Id.

The Court asked Tran for information including his name, age, and to which count in the complaint he was pleading guilty. Hr'g Tr. at 3-4. Although his answers were short, Tran responded in English and was required to say more than "yes" or "no." See id. At no time did Tran request the assistance of the interpreter. See id. After the background information, and before beginning the Rule 11 colloquy, the Court told Tran that "if at any time during this hearing this morning you need to talk to the Interpreter or your attorney please let me know, and I'll give you a chance to do that." Id. at 4-5.

In explaining the nature of the charges, the Court informed Tran,

You're pleading guilty to participating in a bank fraud conspiracy. What this means is that you and at least one other person had a plan or scheme to defraud or obtain money from a federally-insured bank, and your participation was not accidental, but on purpose and knowing.
This crime carries a maximum sentence of 30 years' imprisonment, a supervised release term of up to five years, a fine up to $1 million. You also may be required to make restitution; that is, repay some or all of the money that was lost as a result of the scheme. And you may also be required to forfeit-that is, give up-your right or interest in certain properties. I'm also required to impose a special assessment, or one-time charge, of $100.
Do you understand what you're pleading guilty to and what the penalties are?

Hr'g Tr. at 5-6. Tran responded that he understood and did not request the interpreter's assistance. Id. The Court continued to ask questions about Tran's education, drug use, citizenship, and whether he was currently on probation or parole. See id. at 6-9. Tran responded to all these questions in English. See id. Whenever he stated that he did not understand the question, or needed assistance, Tran conferred with the interpreter. See id. After Tran needed the interpreter's assistance several times, the Court asked the interpreter to translate the remainder of the hearing. See id. at 8.

The Court also confirmed that Tran had read the indictment, and counsel had explained the charges to him. Hr'g Tr. at 9. Although Tran stated that most of his meetings with his counsel were in English, he explained that he had assistance in Vietnamese from members of counsel's staff as well as family members who helped him read and understand all the charges. Id. at 9-10.

After the Government summarized the plea agreement, the Court asked Tran whether he had read and understood the agreement. Hr'g Tr. at 14-15. Upon learning that Tran had only reviewed the agreement with counsel in English, the Court called a recess so that Tran and his counsel could review the agreement with the assistance of the interpreter. Id. at 16. Returning from the recess, Tran told the Court that he had reviewed the agreement in Vietnamese, understood its contents, [2] and agreed to the attached statement of facts. Id. at 16-17. After admitting the agreement, the Court confirmed with Tran that he understood "that the agreement we've just talked about is between you and the United States, not between you and me?"[3] Id. 17. Tran confirmed that he understood. Id.

The Court had the Government summarize the facts and gave the defense an opportunity to make "deletions, additions, or corrections." Hr'g Tr. at 22-23. Tran agreed to the facts and confirmed to the Court that he was pleading guilty because he was in fact guilty. Id. at 23-24. The Court found that there was a ...


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