Package Deal Plea Bargains In California

In In re Ibarra (1983) 34 Cal.3d 277, the California Supreme Court defined a "package-deal" plea bargain as one in which "the prosecutor offers a defendant the opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge, and receive a lesser sentence, contingent upon a guilty plea by all codefendants." While "package-deal" plea bargains are not inherently coercive, Ibarra instructs that the trial court must take special precautions to ensure the voluntariness of a guilty plea entered pursuant to a "package-deal" arrangement. "Under normal circumstances, the trial court may properly rely on a validly executed waiver form in determining the voluntariness of a guilty plea. Nonetheless, when a defendant pleads guilty pursuant to a 'package-deal' arrangement, the trial court has a duty to conduct further inquiry into the voluntariness of the plea: although such a bargain is not per se coercive, it may be so under a totality of the circumstances." (Ibarra, supra, 34 Cal.3d at pp. 281-282.) Therefore, a trial court must determine whether the plea is being entered pursuant to a "package-deal" and if so, the court "assumes a duty to conduct an inquiry into the totality of the circumstances to determine whether, in fact, a plea has been unduly coerced, or is instead freely and voluntarily given." (Id. at p. 288.) In order to determine if a "package-deal" plea is free and voluntary, the trial court must consider several factors. "First, the court must determine whether the inducement for the plea is proper. The court should be satisfied that the prosecution has not misrepresented facts to the defendant, and that the substance of the inducement is within the proper scope of the prosecutor's business. . . . Second, the factual basis for the guilty plea must be considered. If the guilty plea is not supported by the evidence, it is less likely that the plea was the product of the accused's free will. . . . Third, the nature and degree of coerciveness should be carefully examined. Psychological pressures sufficient to indicate an involuntary plea might be present if the third party promised leniency is a close friend or family member whom the defendant feels compelled to help. . . . Fourth, a plea is not coerced if the promise of leniency to a third party was an insignificant consideration by a defendant in his choice to plead guilty. For example, if the motivating factor to plead guilty was the realization of the likelihood of conviction at trial, the defendant cannot be said to have been 'forced' into pleading guilty, unless the coercive factors present had nevertheless remained a substantial factor in his decision." (Ibarra, supra, 34 Cal.3d at pp. 288-290.) Finally, the list is not exhaustive, and other factors, such as the age of the defendant, which party had initiated the plea negotiations, and whether charges had already been pressed against a third party, could also be important considerations. (Ibarra, supra, 34 Cal.3d at p. 290.)