State ex rel. Forbes v. Kaufman

In State ex rel. Forbes v. Kaufman, 185 W. Va. 72, 404 S.E.2d 763 (1991), the Court consulted the reasoning of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Harvey, 791 F.2d 294 (4th Cir. 1986), regarding the effect of imprecise plea agreements. The Fourth Circuit in Harvey held that "both constitutional and supervisory concerns require holding the Government to a greater degree of responsibility than the defendant . . . for imprecisions or ambiguities in plea agreements." 791 F.2d at 300. In Kaufman, the Court explained that we agreed with the Fourth Circuit observation that the state must insure that the terms of a plea agreement are clear and exact. The defendant waives significant constitutional rights by entering into a plea agreement, such as the right to examine and confront witnesses who would testify against the defendant, the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, the presumption of innocence, and the right to a speedy trial. 185 W. Va. at 77, 404 S.E.2d at 768. The Court concluded in Kaufman "that a defendant's waiver of his or her constitutional rights outweighs the state's foregoing of its right to prosecute." Id. "The state bears the primary responsibility for insuring precision and unambiguity in a plea agreement because of the significant constitutional rights the defendant waives by entering a guilty plea. If a plea agreement is imprecise or ambiguous, such imprecision or ambiguity will be construed in favor of the defendant." Id.