Thursday, January 30, 2014

Enforcing plea agreements.

Most criminal cases are not tried, resolving instead via plea agreement.  Typically criminal charges are reduced or dismissed, or sentencing concessions given, in exchange for a plea of guilty or similar.  Negotiating agreements with prosecutors is an art form, requiring patience, nuance and knowledge.

Plea agreements are interpreted according to contract principles.   Normally, when the prosecution fails to adhere to a plea agreement, the trial court will enforce the prosecution's promise.  Promises a prosecutor makes that are integral to plea dispositions must be kept. 
A plea agreement is more than merely a contract between two parties, and must be attended by constitutional safeguards to ensure that a defendant receives the performance that he is due.  These safeguards are embodied in due process principles that require the enforcement of almost all plea agreements in which defendants reasonably and detrimentally rely on prosecutorial promises and fulfill their side of the bargain. 

Determination of the meaning of a plea agreement and whether a party has breached it are matters of law for the trial court (subject to appellate review).  Ambiguities must be construed in favor of the defendant and against the government. 
Where there is detrimental reliance on the prosecution’s (or other government agent’s) promise – i.e. where the defendant has lived up to his or her side of the agreement - the defendant may be entitled to enforcement of the agreement (known as specific performance). 
Procedurally, if the prosecution fails to live up to its end of the agreement, a written motion to the court explaining the agreement, the prosecution's failures, and asking that the agreement be enforced, is in order.  Call Sanderson Law, P.C., 303-444-8846, when you or someone you know needs legal help.

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