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Washington Court Discusses What Constitutes a Breach of a Plea Agreement

On Behalf of | Feb 19, 2020 | Domestic Violence

In many instances in which a defendant is charged with a domestic violence crime, he or she will enter into a plea agreement with the State. Although the court is not required to impose the sentence recommended by the State pursuant to a plea agreement, the State cannot actively undercut the agreement by offering evidence that would persuade the court to disregard the agreement. Recently, in a domestic violence case decided by the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1, the court discussed what constitutes a breach of a plea agreement. If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence, it is prudent to meet with a skillful Tacoma domestic violence attorney to discuss your options for protecting your rights.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the body of an 18-year-old man was found near a campground, after which the defendant was identified as a suspect. The victim and the defendant had been involved in a relationship in which the victim took the role of a slave or submissive. Their relationship was volatile, and the defendant exercised a great deal of control over the victim. The defendant had an extensive criminal history as well. The defendant and victim were traveling with a friend the defendant met in prison when the defendant reportedly shot the victim numerous times. The victim died from his wounds.

It is reported that the State charged the defendant murder in the first degree, and domestic violence while armed with a firearm. The defendant agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the State recommended that the defendant be sentenced to 240 months in prison. The court sentenced the defendant to 295 months in prison, however, after which the defendant appealed, arguing that the State breached the plea agreement.

Actions that Constitute a Breach of a Plea Agreement

Plea agreements are contracts between the defendant and the State. Thus, pursuant to contract principles, the State has a duty to act in good faith, which includes the requirement that the State refrain from undercutting the agreement, either implicitly or explicitly, by engaging in conduct that shows an intent to bypass the agreement. Further, because a defendant waives important rights by agreeing to plead guilty to a crime, due process imposes an obligation on the State to adhere to the terms of a plea agreement by recommending the sentence agreed upon by the parties.

In determining whether a prosecutor’s comments or actions constitute a breach of a plea agreement, the court reviews the record as a whole. Essentially, a breach occurs when the State offers unsolicited information that weakens the plea agreement. In the subject case, the court found that the State did not violate the plea agreement by offering information regarding the relationship between the defendant and the victim and the defendant’s violent nature. Rather, the information was necessary to persuade the court to avoid imposing a lesser sentence. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Knowledgeable Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence, it is sensible to meet with a knowledgeable Washington domestic violence attorney regarding your possible defenses. The trusted criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White will zealously advocate on your behalf to help you seek a successful result. We can be reached through our online form or at 253-363-8662 to set up a meeting.