Skip to Content
Call Today for a Consultation 205-335-2640

Rule 11: Challenging Pleading Requirements in the Eleventh Circuit


In a case that addresses the requirements for a proper pleading, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently heard an appeal from the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. This case, US v. Jayson E. Wright, delves into the pleading procedure under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, while also defining the elements of a criminal charge under 18 U.S.C. §2251(a) in the process.

On August 17, 2020, Wright’s daughter alleged that her parents were sexually abusing her, causing a family friend to alert the police. The police searched Wright’s home, finding many images and videos containing child pornography, with some explicitly featuring Wright’s daughter. Wright pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography, as well as a more specific charge for the production of such content by a parent or legal guardian. Both charges were brought under 18 U.S.C. §2251, which criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children. §2251(a) governs the production of child pornography broadly, while §2251(b) includes the additional element of parental involvement in the production of the pornography. As a result of his guilty plea, Wright was sentenced to 720 months’ imprisonment.

Despite having pleaded guilty, Wright appealed his conviction, asserting that the district court violated Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by allowing him to plead guilty to the charge under §2251(a). Rule 11 codifies the proper procedure for plea agreements for criminal charges. Wright raised two key issues under Rule 11, with both arguments centering around the notion that the district court should not have taken his guilty plea. First, Wright argued there was not an adequate factual basis to support his plea. Additionally, Wright contended that §2251(a) and (e) require that the minor voluntarily participated in the sexual act to sustain his conviction. The district court never mentioned such a requirement, which Wright characterized as a failure to explain the nature of his charge, causing him to plead guilty when he otherwise would not.

To answer these questions, the Eleventh Circuit first clarified Wright’s burden on this appeal, noting that he must establish the existence of a plain or obvious error. Wright must also show that the error was prejudicial to a degree that affected his substantial rights and seriously affected the fairness or integrity of the judicial proceedings. Relying on precedent to determine the obviousness of the alleged error, the Court cited its own recent decision rejecting a volitional participation requirement for §2251(a) charges. In that decision, the Eleventh Circuit held that the multitude of verbs used within the statute allows §2251(a) to cover a broad range of criminal conduct, including situations where the minor is both passively and actively involved. Extending this ruling to the case at hand, the Court held that, because §2251(a) does not require the willing participation the minor, the district court was not required to make such a factual showing under Rule 11(b)(3), nor was it within the nature of the charge. Therefore, the district court did not err in accepting Wright’s plea or failing to disclose such a requirement.

US v. Jayson E. Wright demonstrates the appropriate pleading procedure under Rule 11. By relying on the Court’s own precedent in defining the limits of §2251(a), the Eleventh Circuit nullified the alleged deficiencies in Wright’s charges, holding that the district court was not required to make any showings or explanations related to volitional participation under Rule 11. Although the Court ultimately affirmed the plea agreement, finding no plain error in the district court’s actions, the Eleventh Circuit’s willingness to hear an appeal from a voluntary guilty plea serves as a modest reinforcement to the rights of the accused.


Contact Ingram Law Today

Request a Consultation by Filling Out This Form
  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please enter your email address.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.
  • By submitting, you agree to be contacted about your request & other information using automated technology. Message frequency varies. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to cancel. Acceptable Use Policy