California Landmark Cases on Plea Agreements

"'A plea agreement is, in essence, a contract between the defendant and the prosecutor to which the court consents to be bound.'" (People v. Ames (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 1214, 1217.) Accordingly, a plea agreement is interpreted according to contract principles. (People v. Shelton (2006) 37 Cal.4th 759 at p. 767.) The goal of contract interpretation is to give effect to the mutual intention of the parties as objectively expressed in the contract. (Ibid.; ASP Properties Group, L.P. v. Fard, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 1257, 1266.) Where contractual language is clear and explicit, we determine intent from the written terms alone. (People v. Shelton, supra, 37 Cal.4th at p. 767; Kashmiri v. Regents of University of California (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 809, 831.) If the contractual language is ambiguous or uncertain, extrinsic evidence is properly considered to ascertain the reasonable expectations of the parties. (ASP Properties, supra, 133 Cal.App.4th at p. 1266; Kashmiri, supra, 156 Cal.App.4th at p. 832.) An ambiguity may appear on the face of a contract, or extrinsic evidence may reveal a latent ambiguity in the contract. (Fremont Indemnity Co. v. Fremont General Corp. (2007) 148 Cal.App.4th 97, 114.) When deciding whether there is an ambiguity, the trial court should provisionally receive (without actually admitting) the extrinsic evidence concerning the parties' intentions to determine whether the language is reasonably susceptible to the interpretation urged by the party. (Winet v. Price (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 1159, 1165.) If the language is reasonably susceptible to the urged interpretation, the court should then admit the evidence and use it to determine the parties' objectively expressed mutual intentions. (Ibid.; People v. Shelton, supra, 37 Cal.4th at p. 767.) To determine the parties' intent, the court considers the language in the agreement, as well as such objective matters as the surrounding circumstances under which the parties negotiated the contract, the subject matter of the contract, and the subsequent conduct of the parties prior to the development of the controversy. (People v. Shelton, supra, at p. 767; Oceanside 84, Ltd. v. Fidelity Federal Bank (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 1441, 1449.) Although the parties may testify regarding their actual intent, the court applies an objective standard to interpret the contract. (See Neverkovec v. Fredericks (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 337, 351; Hess v. Ford Motor Co. (2002) 27 Cal.4th 516, 528.) It is the parties' outward, disclosed manifestation of intent, rather than undisclosed subjective intent, that controls contract interpretation. (Berman v. Bromberg (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 936, 948; Founding Members of the Newport Beach Country Club v. Newport Beach Country Club, Inc. (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 944, 956.) A written agreement may include both express and implied terms (People v. Arata (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 778, 787), but implied terms may not be inserted unless they are necessary to effectuate the parties' mutual intentions (People v. Rabanales, supra, 168 Cal.App.4th at p. 505). "The question is what the parties' . . . objective expressions of intent would lead a reasonable person to believe." (Winograd v. American Broadcasting Co. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 624, 632; People v. Toscano (2004) 124 Cal.App.4th 340, 345.)