Friday, March 6, 2009

Plea Agreement Not Violated

The Kansas Supreme Court rejected an attempt to allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea in connection with murdering one child and molesting another child. The court received a brief from counsel and a pro se brief from the defendant ("We are favored with two briefs"). On the merits, the court concluded that the prosecutor's allocution did not violate the plea agreement:

  In essence, the prosecutor's arguments appear to have been directly tailored to address the defense's attempt to cast Woodward in a favorable light. The plea-bargained recommended sentence was not the minimum which the court could impose. If the sentencing court had found the defense's proffered mitigation to be compelling, it was not precluded from doing something less than recommended, such as running all of the convictions concurrently. See State v. Hill, 247 Kan. 377, 385, 799 P.2d 997 (1990) (plea bargain terms not binding on trial court). In that context, the State was free to argue why the recommended sentence was also the most appropriate sentence to impose under the circumstances. The plea agreement did not require the prosecutor to ignore the defense's attempts to minimize Woodward's culpability.

   Accordingly, we find that the prosecutor made an unequivocal recommendation that the sentencing court impose a sentence of life plus 10 years to life, as provided in the plea agreement. Nothing the prosecutor said at the sentencing hearing was intended to undermine the State's recommendation or to suggest that the sentencing court impose a harsher sentence. The State did not breach the plea agreement, so there was no manifest injustice to correct. Accordingly, we need not consider whether the district court's denial of the plea withdrawal motion was an abuse of discretion. The district court did not err in summarily denying Woodward's motion to withdraw his plea.

(Mike Frisch)

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