Oregon Supreme Court Announces Default Rule When Plea Agreement Silent About Reprosecution Upon Subsequent Death of Victim
by Mark Wilson
The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of murder charges against a defendant who pleaded guilty under a plea agreement to assaulting a victim who subsequently died.
In August 2013, Trevin Michael King, 17, and an adult co-defendant assaulted a man and stole his bicycle. The victim was found the next day, unconscious and suffering from multiple head wounds. King was charged with second-degree assault and first-degree robbery. The victim languished in a coma for several months.
By early 2014, the parties entered into negotiations in contemplation of a plea agreement. Although prosecutors were aware of the possibility that the victim could die at any moment, they never discussed what would happen if he did.
In February 2014, King pleaded guilty to assault and no contest to robbery during a plea and sentencing hearing. The terms of the oral plea deal were stated on the record, which included a recommendation of a 120-month sentence. The court accepted the recommendation and sentenced him accordingly. Again, the issue of what would happen if the victim died was never brought up by the parties or the court.
The victim died about six months after King’s guilty plea. Despite the plea deal, prosecutors charged King with murder, but the trial court granted King’s motion to dismiss because the prosecution failed to reserve its right to bring additional charges against King if the victim died.
On appeal, the State argued that under Oregon law it reserved the right to prosecute King absent an express agreement to the contrary. Additionally, it argued that under principles of contract law, King bore the burden of eliminating the risk of subsequently being prosecuted for murder via the negotiated plea agreement.
The Oregon Supreme Court rejected the State’s arguments and affirmed the trial court’s decision. In the absence of a statute specifically addressing the present issue, the Court announced the need for a contractual default rule or “gap-filler” when (1) the victim’s death is foreseeable to the prosecutor and (2) the plea agreement is silent on the issue of reprosecution in the event of the victim’s subsequent death.
Accordingly, the Court adopted: “a default rule that places the burden on the state—when it is reasonably foreseeable to the prosecutor that the victim may die and the state intends to reserve the right to reprosecute a defendant for homicide in the event of the victim’s death—to disclose its intention to the defendant as part of the plea deal, either expressly during negotiations or, preferably, as a term of the plea agreement itself.”
The Supreme Court noted that this rule “is grounded not only on contract law concerning omissions in agreements but also on the requirement that he [defendant] knowingly waive his constitutional rights and on a due process right to enforce his plea agreement.” See: State v. King, 398 P.3d 336 (Or. 2017).
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Related legal case
State v. King
|Cite||398 P.3d 336 (Or. 2017)|