Can Prosecutor Withdraw Plea Bargain Before It Is Submitted ?
The question "whether a prosecutor can withdraw from a plea bargain before the bargain is submitted for court approval" recently was addressed in People v. Rhoden (1999) 75 Cal. App. 4th 1346, 1351-1352 [89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 819].)
Noting that the question "appears to be an issue of first impression in California courts," Rhoden reviewed cases from other jurisdictions, as well as secondary authority (id. at pp. 1352-1355), and concluded "a prosecutor may withdraw from a plea bargain before a defendant pleads guilty or otherwise detrimentally relies on that bargain." ( Id. at p. 1354, italics added.)
"Absent detrimental reliance on the bargain, the defendant has an adequate remedy by being restored to the position he occupied before he entered into the agreement " (Id. at p. 1356, quoting State v. Beckes (1980) 100 Wis.2d 1, 7 [300 N.W.2d 871, 874].)
The fact that the court is not bound by a plea agreement entered into by the prosecutor and the accused, and the fact that a plea agreement made by the parties before it is submitted for court approval is akin to an executory contract which does not bind the accused, do not undermine the principle that the prosecutor should be bound by the agreement if the accused has relied detrimentally upon it.
The integrity of the office of the prosecutor is implicated because a " 'pledge of public faith' " occurs when the prosecution enters into an agreement with an accused. (Butler v. State (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1969) 228 So.2d 421, 424 [36 A.L.R.3d 1274].)
A court's subsequent approval or disapproval of the plea agreement does not detract from the prosecutorial obligation to uphold "our historical ideals of fair play and the very majesty of our government . . . ." (Id. at p. 425.)
The "failure of the [prosecutor] to fulfill [his] promise . . . affects the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings." ( U.S. v. Goldfaden (5th Cir. 1992) 959 F.2d 1324, 1328.)