Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Harris v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 18, 2015)

I'd be surprised if the California Supreme Court decided against grating review in this case.  Because it's definitely an issue that should go up.

It's an issue that implicates thousands (if not tens of thousands) of other cases.  Basically the scoop is this:  Voters recently passed Proposition 47 which allows defendants to petition (in various categories of cases) to reduce certain felony convictions to misdemeanors.  But the prosecution doesn't like that, particularly in cases in which there was a plea bargain; e.g., where defendant agreed to plead guilty to X offense, in return for Y sentence, but now seeks relief (as authorized by Proposition 47) to reduce the X offense to a misdemeanor and hence only have to serve a sentence of less-than-Y.

So does the passage of Proposition 47 allow the prosecution to retroactively withdraw from the plea agreement, even after the defendant has (as here) served years in prison, or do we assume that both parties (the prosecution and the defense) are bound because they're deemed to incorporate any future changes in the law?

The Court of Appeal here holds that the prosecution can indeed withdraw from the plea agreement in light of the subsequent passage of Proposition 47, since it deprived the prosecution of the "benefit of the bargain," and that such a withdrawal doesn't contradict the fundamental purpose of Prop. 47 even though most convictions are the result of plea bargains.  Justice Mosk dissents, and would decide the case the other way.

You gotta take this issue up, and definitely resolve it one way or the other.  Especially since there are analogous California Supreme Court cases going both ways:  one that says that a plea bargain can be retroactively withdrawn when subsequent legislation makes the offense to which defendant pleaded guilty not a crime at all (and hence would require his immediate release), but then a subsequent case that says that defendants aren't entitled to withdraw their plea even if subsequent legislation deprives 'em of a large part of the benefit of their bargain (e.g., sex offender registration).  You can't -- or at least shouldn't have a one-way ratchet that says that the prosecution can withdraw from a deal if the voters do something the prosecution doesn't like (as a way of getting around what the voters did) but the defendant can't do the same thing in similar circumstances.

Plus this is just too big, and important, of an issue to let it be resolved by the vagaries of which panel in the Court of Appeal a particular defendant happens to draw.

No need to wait for the issue to percolate further in the Court of Appeal.  Particularly given that the defendants at issue will be sitting around in prison, deprived of their (alleged) rights under Prop. 47, during this entire period.

Take the case up now and resolve it once and for all.