In a 5-2 decision released July 1 by the Colorado Supreme Court, the justices appear divided on the weight of the decision’s impact on criminal plea bargains. The court decided a simple question: If a prosecutor and defendant agree on a plea bargain, but the trial court decides a more lenient sentence is appropriate instead of the one agreed upon, can the prosecutor with- draw from the plea agreement?
The majority said no and seemed to find the law and an applicable rule of criminal procedure unambiguous.
Trial courts are required by state law and the Rules of Criminal Procedure to use independent judgment in deciding whether to accept sentence concessions in plea agreements. If a trial court decides not to accept the sentencing agreement, Colorado law and Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(d) direct a trial court to “advise the defendant and the district attorney” that it is not accepting the sentence concession “and then call upon the defendant to either affirm or withdraw the plea of guilty.”
Justice Carlos Samour wrote neither the law nor Rule 32(d) mention the prosecution’s ability to confirm or withdraw from a plea agreement after a trial court has said it rejects a sentencing agreement.