Can State ''change'' A Promise Made To A Defendant At The Time Of Entering A Negotiated Guilty Plea Without Violating His Constitutional Rights ?

In People v. Whitfield, 217 Ill. 2d 177, 840 N.E.2d 658, 298 Ill. Dec. 545 (2005), the defendant entered a negotiated guilty plea to first degree murder. He had agreed to serve a 25-year prison term. He claimed, however, that he had not agreed to serve the additional three-year term of mandatory supervised release (MSR) that became a part of his sentence by operation of law pursuant to section 5--8--1(d)(1) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5--8--1(d)(1) (West 2004)). The defendant did not argue that he had been promised he would not serve a term of MSR. Rather, he argued that the trial court was required to admonish him about MSR and that, because the trial court failed to do so, the plea agreement "as evinced by the record" could not be deemed to make MSR part of the negotiated sentence. Whitfield, 217 Ill. 2d at 186. The defendant contended that he was entitled to enforce his bargain with the State. Recognizing that the MSR term could not legally be stricken, the defendant argued that, in order to best approximate his bargain with the State, his prison term should be reduced by three years. Our supreme court noted that the "benefit-of-the-bargain" theory espoused by the defendant was rooted in Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 30 L. Ed. 2d 427, 92 S. Ct. 495 (1971). Whitfield, 217 Ill. 2d at 184-85. The Santobello Court held that "when a plea rests in any significant degree on a promise or agreement of the prosecutor, so that it can be said to be part of the inducement or consideration, such promise must be fulfilled." Santobello, 404 U.S. at 262, 30 L. Ed. 2d at 433, 92 S. Ct. at 499. Restating that principle, the Whitfield court held that "if a defendant shows that his plea of guilty was entered in reliance on a plea agreement, he may have a due process right to enforce the terms of the agreement." Whitfield, 217 Ill. 2d at 189. The Whitfield court agreed with the defendant's contention that "his constitutional right to due process and fundamental fairness was violated because he pled guilty in exchange for a specific sentence, but received a different, more onerous sentence than the one he agreed to." Whitfield, 217 Ill. 2d at 188-89. In granting the defendant's request to reduce his prison term, the Whitfield court reasoned that "adding the statutorily required three-year MSR term to defendant's negotiated 25-year sentence amounts to a unilateral modification and breach of the plea agreement by the State, inconsistent with constitutional concerns of fundamental fairness." Whitfield, 217 Ill. 2d at 190.