State v. Patience

In State v. Patience, 944 P.2d 381 (Utah App. 1997), the defendant, charged with three counts of forgery, had entered into a plea agreement with the state whereby she pled guilty to "three counts of attempted forgery, third degree felonies." Id. at 383. The trial court imposed consecutive prison terms for the "three third degree felonies." Id. at 384. But, unbeknownst to the court, the prosecutor, and the defendant, the Utah legislature had reduced attempted forgery to a misdemeanor before the parties had negotiated and entered into the plea agreement. Once discovered, the defendant appealed her sentence on the ground that it was illegal. The state sought to rescind the plea agreement on the ground of "mutual mistake of material fact" and asked that the original charges be reinstated. Id. at 385. In refusing the state's request to rescind the plea agreement, the Patience court noted that, as here, the defendant had neither breached the agreement nor withdrawn from nor modified the agreement, conditions which generally would have permitted the state to withdraw. Moreover, the court held that rescission was inappropriate even under a contract law analysis: A party may not rescind an agreement based on mutual mistake where that party bears the risk of mistake. See 17A Am.Jur.2d Contracts 215 (1991). In this case, we conclude the State bore the risk of the mistake as to the law in effect at the time the parties entered into the plea agreement. The State is generally in the better position to know the correct law . . . and the State must be deemed to know the law it is enforcing. Indeed, it is the State's law, duly enacted by its legislative branch, that is in issue. The State must be charged with knowledge of its own legislative enactments and, in that sense, cannot be said to have been mistaken about the governing statute in effect when it agreed to the plea arrangement.... ... Under these circumstances, we refuse to relieve the State of what it now considers a bad bargain where the plea agreement was the result of uninduced mistake as to the current provisions of Utah statute. We conclude that the State may not rescind the plea agreement in this case based on mutual mistake. Patience, 944 P.2d at 387-88. The court thus remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing on the misdemeanors.