Landmark California Cases on Plea Bargains

"Plea negotiations and agreements are an accepted and 'integral component of the criminal justice system and essential to the expeditious and fair administration of our courts.' " (People v. Segura (2008) 44 Cal.4th 921, 929.) Once a plea agreement has been accepted by the parties and approved by the court, it must be implemented according to its terms. The trial court has no authority to change the terms of a plea bargain without the consent of the parties. (Id. at p. 930.) While the trial court cannot change the terms of a plea bargain, it is not required to carry out a plea bargain it finds to be inappropriate, and the court retains the discretion to disapprove a plea bargain at any time prior to imposing sentence. " 'No bargain or agreement can divest the court of the sentencing discretion it inherently possesses.' " (People v. Superior Court (Gifford) (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 1333, 1337.) " 'Implicit in the language of section 1192.5 is the premise that the court, upon sentencing, has broad discretion to withdraw its prior approval of a negotiated plea.' Such withdrawal is permitted, for example, in those instances where the court becomes more fully informed about the case , or where, after further consideration, the court concludes that the bargain is not in the best interests of society." (Id. at p. 1338.) If the court disapproves a plea bargain after having accepted the defendant's plea, section 1192.5 requires the court to provide the defendant the opportunity to withdraw the plea. (People v. Cruz (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1247, 1251.) Section 1192.5, which authorizes plea bargains, states that a defendant must be advised, at the time of entering a plea pursuant to a plea bargain, that, among other things, the court is permitted to disapprove the bargain and, if it does, "the defendant shall be permitted to withdraw his or her plea if he or she desires to do so." It thereafter states, "If the plea is not accepted by the prosecuting attorney and approved by the court, the plea shall be deemed withdrawn and the defendant may then enter the plea or pleas as would otherwise have been available." To be valid, a defendant's plea bargain must be made knowingly and intelligently. (People v. Thomas (1986) 41 Cal.3d 837, 844-845.) This means that the defendant must enter the agreement voluntarily and with an understanding of the charges and the direct consequences of the plea, including the sentence. (Bradshaw v. Stumpf (2005) 545 U.S. 175, 183; People v. Panizzon (1996) 13 Cal.4th 68, 80.) Penal Code Section 1018 provides, in relevant part, that a trial court may, "for a good cause shown, permit the plea of guilty to be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty substituted." The defendant has the burden to establish good cause by clear and convincing evidence. (See People v. Williams (1998) 17 Cal.4th 148, 167 (conc. & dis. opn. of Baxter, J.).) To establish good cause, the defendant must show that the plea was the product of "mistake, ignorance, fraud, duress, or any other factor that overcomes the exercise of free judgment." (People v. Ravaux (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 914, 917.) "The fact that the defendant may have been persuaded, or was reluctant, to accept the plea is not sufficient to warrant the plea being withdrawn. 'Guilty pleas resulting from a bargain should not be set aside lightly and finality of proceedings should be encouraged.' " (Id. at p. 919.) The defendant must establish that his free will was overcome, not merely that he had a change of heart. (People v. Nance (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 1453, 1456.) "A decision to deny a motion to withdraw a guilty plea '"rests in the sound discretion of the trial court"' and is final unless the defendant can show a clear abuse of that discretion. Moreover, a reviewing court must adopt the trial court's factual findings if substantial evidence supports them. " (People v. Fairbank (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1223, 1254.) The California Supreme Court in People v. Arbuckle stated: "As a general principle, . . . whenever a judge accepts a plea bargain and retains sentencing discretion under the agreement, an implied term of the bargain is that sentence will be imposed by that judge." (See People v. Arbuckle (1978) 22 Cal.3d 749, 756-757 (Arbuckle).) If that judge is unavailable at the time of sentencing, the defendant has the option of proceeding before a different judge or withdrawing his plea. (Id. at p. 757 & fn. 5.) Thus, sentence must be imposed by the judge who accepted the defendant's plea only if that judge retained sentencing discretion under the agreement. Not every plea agreement contains a term that the judge will retain sentencing discretion. " ' "It is not always an implied term of a plea bargain that the judge who accepts the plea will impose the sentence; rather, the record must affirmatively demonstrate some basis upon which a defendant may reasonably expect that the judge who accepts the plea will retain sentencing discretion." ' " (People v. Horn (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 701, 707-708 (Horn).) A criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel includes the effective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. (Lafler v. Cooper (2012) (Lafler); Missouri v. Frye (2012) (Frye); In re Alvernaz (1992) 2 Cal.4th 924, 933 (Alvernaz).) Such claims are governed by the two-part test set forth in Strickland v. Washington (1984) 466 U.S. 668 (Strickland). (Lafler, at p. 1384; Frye, at p. 1405; Alvernaz, at pp. 936-937.) A defendant must show both deficient performance (representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and prejudice (reasonable probability of a more favorable result in the absence of counsel's unprofessional errors). (Strickland, supra, 466 U.S. at pp. 688, 694; Alvernaz, supra, 2 Cal.4th at pp. 936-937.) "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." (Strickland, at p. 694.) In the context of plea bargaining, "a defendant must show the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice. " (Lafler, supra, 132 S.Ct. at p. 1384.) To prevail, a defendant must show that but for the ineffective advice of counsel, (1) there is a reasonable probability the plea offer would have been presented to the trial court (i.e., the defendant would have accepted the plea and the prosecution would not have withdrawn it in light of intervening circumstances), (2) the trial court would have accepted its terms, and (3) the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer's terms would have been less severe than under the judgment and sentence that in fact were imposed. (Id. at p. 1385.) "In determining whether a defendant, with effective assistance, would have accepted the offer, pertinent factors to be considered include: whether counsel actually and accurately communicated the offer to the defendant; the advice, if any, given by counsel; the disparity between the terms of the proposed plea bargain and the probable consequences of proceeding to trial, as viewed at the time of the offer; and whether the defendant indicated he or she was amenable to negotiating a plea bargain. In this context, a defendant's self-serving statement--after trial, conviction, and sentence--that with competent advice he or she would have accepted a proffered plea bargain, is insufficient in and of itself to sustain the defendant's burden of proof as to prejudice, and must be corroborated independently by objective evidence." (Alvernaz, supra, 2 Cal.4th at p. 938.)