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California Court of Appeal: SB 136 Makes Plea Agreement Containing Prior Prison Enhancement Unenforceable

Jeffrey Allan Joaquin was charged with: (I) premeditated attempted murder with an allegation that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm, California Penal Code §§ 187(a) & 664, 12022.53(c); (II) possessing a firearm having been previously convicted of a felony, Id., § 29800(a)(1); (III) assault with a firearm, Id., § 245(a)(2); (IV) a firearm use allegation, Id., § 12022.5(a); and (V) a prior prison term allegation based on a conviction for infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, Id., §§ 667.5(b) & 273.5.

By agreement, Joaquin pleaded no contest to attempted murder without premeditation for a seven-year prison sentence, admitted to the firearm use allegation for a four-year sentence, and admitted to the prior prison term for a one-year sentence. All sentences were consecutive for an aggregate 12-year prison sentence.

Joaquin subsequently appealed, arguing that Senate Bill 620 gave courts discretion to strike formerly mandatory firearm use enhancements. But while the case was on appeal, SB 136 was also passed.

SB 136 substantially narrowed the one-year enhancement based on prior felony convictions by limiting the enhancement to only prior prison terms that had been imposed as the result of a conviction “for a sexually violent offense as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 6600 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.” And SB 136 applied retroactively to cases not yet final. People v. Hernandez, 55 Cal.App.5th 942 (2020).

Because Joaquin’s prior conviction wasn’t for a qualifying sex offense, the trial court could not enforce the plea agreement, according to the Court. Neither could the trial court strike the enhancement from the agreement and then enforce the remainder of the agreement because the Legislature didn’t grant the court that discretion. People v. Griffin, 2020 Cal.App. LEXIS 1138 (2020). Thus, the Court concluded the judgment must be vacated.

The Court instructed that on remand the trial court may not approve a new plea agreement that imposes a longer sentence than the original agreement. People v. Collins, 577 P.2d 1026 (Cal. 1978). To do so would deprive the defendant “the benefit of his bargain” where it was “external events ... that ha[d] rendered the judgment insupportable.” Id. Further, longer sentences would defeat the purpose of SB 136, viz., reduced criminal sentences. The court must restore the parties to the status quo before the agreement. People v. Stamps, 467 P.3d 168 (Cal. 2020). Joaquin could then accept or reject a plea agreement that includes the firearm enhancement he challenged on appeal, the Court noted.

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Related legal case

People v. Joaquin

 

 

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