Most criminal cases end when the defendant agrees to a plea deal offered by the prosecutor – but doing so is often not in their best interest. In California, some prosecutors are even inserting provisions into plea deals that would keep the defendant from benefiting from future changes in the law that might benefit them. For example, you might have to sign away any possibility of appealing the length of your sentence if the State of California decides to reduce the sentence length of the crime for which you were convicted.
This controversial practice shows how important it is to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer by your side to negotiate a beneficial plea deal for you – or better yet, to beat your charges. Sometimes, a plea deal is the best outcome you can hope for. But in your case, a lawyer may be able to successfully advocate for your acquittal or a dismissal of the charges. You have rights in the criminal justice process, including the right to a lawyer to fight on your behalf.
San Diego Prosecutors Got Defendants to Sign Away Their Right to Challenge Their Sentence
In San Diego County, the prosecutor’s office has convinced several defendants to sign plea deals that make it impossible for them to benefit from new court rulings or legislation. This is an apparent backlash against efforts in Sacramento to do away with mandatory sentences and to change the definitions of some crimes. For example, last year, the California legislature passed a law that made it harder to convict people of felony murder. The law also had retroactive effects, meaning that people currently serving time for felony murder might be eligible for early release.
Prosecutors are trying to insulate defendants from benefiting from these legal changes, and they have the apparent authority to do it. In the 2013 case of Doe v. Harris, the California Supreme Court stated that the terms or consequences of a plea agreement, like any contract, may be altered by future changes in the law. But the court also stated that defendants and prosecutors could possibly agree to fix the terms of a plea bargain so that future changes in the law would not affect the substance of the deal.
This court decision resulted from a defendant’s attempt to shield himself from a change in the law that hurt his case. He plead guilty to a sex crime in the 90s, well aware that he would be placed on the sex offender registry, which was only accessible by law enforcement at the time. But then the law changed, and the registry became public. The offender sued the state of California for breach of contract, and he lost because there was no implicit or explicit promise in his plea deal that the terms of his registration as a sex offender would remain fixed.
The court suggested, however, that he might have been able to negotiate a provision that would have prevented changes in the law to affect his plea agreement. Ironically, what was meant as a way for defendants to avoid the bad consequences of changes in the law is now preventing them from taking advantage of beneficial changes in the law. Under the authority of Doe, prosecutors are able to fix the terms of plea deal so that you cannot get out of your sentence, even if the legislature decides to shorten it retroactively.
Fortunately, the California legislature may specifically prohibit this type of plea deal. State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from South Los Angeles, has introduced Assembly Bill 1618, which would put the following into law:
“a provision of a plea bargain that requires a defendant to generally waive future potential benefits of legislative enactments, initiatives, judicial appellate decisions, or other changes in the law that may retroactively apply after the date of the plea is void as against public policy.”
The bill has passed several committees and is due for a vote in coming weeks.
Contact a Los Angeles Appeals Lawyer for Help Today
Negotiating a good plea deal may be the best outcome you can hope for in some cases. For example, if the prosecutor has strong and admissible evidence that points to your guilt, it may be best to negotiate a plea agreement instead of going through a trial that you will likely lose. But it is only a good idea to enter a plea agreement if an experienced criminal defense lawyer has looked through your case file and determined that this is the best option. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you might have a good chance of successfully fighting your charges.
Prosecutors often pressure suspects into accepting plea deals when this would not be in their best interest. They may even try to get you to sign an agreement when they know their case has weaknesses. This is why it’s so important to have a lawyer by your side during the plea deal negotiation. If you have been accused of a crime and are considering a plea deal, call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out through the online form for a free evaluation of your case.