Con Air, an action movie released in 1997 starring Nicholas Cage, features his character cutting a deal after killing a man during a fight after being assaulted. The judge rejects this deal and sentences the character to prison for 5 years. Is that how it works? Can judges reject deals and sentence people if their guilty pleas were given on the expectation of getting more lenient treatment? This was in the federal system if that matters.

  • I just went to watch the scene for reference and the judge sentences him to "not less than 7 to 10 years." I guess the screen writers just decided to poorly copy and paste the actual statute. Scene: youtube.com/watch?v=6wxGncpLjfk Sep 4, 2022 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


According to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 11 (c)(1), there are two different ways that such a plea deal could be negotiated:

  • Paragraph B: the prosecution agrees to recommend a particular sentence or range. Such a recommendation is not binding on the court, but would probably be followed in most cases.

  • Paragraph C: the prosecution agrees that a particular sentence or range is the appropriate disposition of the case. If the court accepts this type of plea deal, they have to impose the agreed sentence. The court does have the power to reject the agreement altogether, but in that case the defendant can withdraw their guilty plea and proceed to trial (or go back to the bargaining table with the prosecution).

So it depends on which type of deal was in place. For (B), the movie's course of events would be possible. For C, it would not.

  • I wonder if defense attorneys tell clients that then, because even if it's a slim chance they're rolling the dice every time.
    – mcc1789
    Sep 3, 2022 at 19:51
  • 1
    @mcc1789: Answer updated as there was another option that I missed. But as far as telling clients, I would certainly expect that they would. The Federal Public Defender's Criminal Defense Manual mentions on page 76 that "Erroneous legal advice regarding sentencing possibilities can expose a defense attorney to a charge of ineffective assistance of counsel leading to a retrial, mistrial, or withdrawal of the plea." Sep 3, 2022 at 22:51
  • A good attorney is definitely going to advise the client of this risk. If things go sideways, the lawyer is looking at malpractice claims otherwise.
    – bdb484
    Sep 4, 2022 at 16:34
  • @mcc1789 He's convicted of manslaughter with a 10 year sentence, maybe if they had gone to trial the prosecutor would have indicted him with murder as well which is going to have a substantially longer prison term on conviction (in Alabama it looks like that can carry the death penalty). Sep 4, 2022 at 21:09

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