Can A Texas Judge Reject A Plea Bargain?
Most criminal cases in Texas do not go to trial. Instead, the district attorney and the defendant negotiate a plea agreement. With a plea bargain, the defendant normally agrees to plead guilty (or “no contest”) to a specified charge. In exchange, the district attorney agrees to a recommended sentence. The final agreement is then submitted to the trial court.
So can the judge actually reject the plea bargain? Yes, that is a possibility. A plea agreement is not final until it is accepted by the court. And the judge may decide the agreement is unsatisfactory for some reason. If so, the court can reject the plea.
What happens next? If the plea bargain is rejected, then the defendant is no longer bound by its terms. This means the defendant can withdraw their guilty or no-contest plea and proceed to a jury trial.
Appeals Court Rejects Trial Judge’s Attempt to Rewrite Plea Agreement
While judges have the authority to reject a plea bargain, they cannot actually modify the terms of the agreement, at least under Texas law. The Texas 13th District Court of Appeals recently discussed this principle in a drug prosecution. This particular case, State v. Saenz, began when police officers arrested the defendant after he was found sleeping in his car while parked in front of a convenience store. The officers searched the defendant and found cocaine. The district attorney subsequently charged the defendant with two felony drug counts.
The parties ultimately negotiated a plea agreement. The defendant would plead guilty to one of the two charges. The district attorney agreed to dismiss the second charge and recommend a sentence of eight years in prison, with the sentence to be suspended in favor of eight years on probation.
The judge, however, was uncomfortable with the agreement. The court expressed concern that this was the defendant’s first offense. Over the prosecution’s objection, the judge decided to enter a finding of deferred adjudication. This meant the defendant would be placed on 1 years probation, which if he completed successfully would lead to the dismissal of the original charge.
The district attorney asked the 13th District for an order quashing the trial judge’s ruling. The prosecutor argued that the judge had no legal authority to modify the plea agreement. The court’s role was either to accept or reject the deal negotiated between the parties as presented. The appellate court agreed. It noted the trial judge’s role in these situations was “ministerial.” It therefore ordered the trial judge to either accept or reject the plea bargain; if the latter, then the defendant had the right to go to trial.
Speak with a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney
Even in a situation where a person is prepared to plead guilty to a crime, they can still benefit from experienced legal representation. If you need to speak with a qualified Pearland drug crime lawyer, contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today.