Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, July 22, 2019


Page 3


State Violated Essential Term of Plea Bargain—Appeals Court

Unavailability of a Bed at a Particular Residential Treatment Facility Did Not Justify Placing Drug Addict at a Residence Where Drugs Were in Use by Residents, Justice Moor Declares


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The state violated an essential term of a plea agreement when the defendant, a drug addict, was routed to a transitional living facility where drugs were in use by residents when he had been promised placement in a residential treatment program, the Court of Appeal for this district has declared.

The unavailability of a bed at the particular facility to which the judge had intended he be sent did not excuse the breach, Justice Carl H. Moor of Div. Five said in an opinion filed Thursday and not certified for publication. A conviction for grand theft is reversed, with the case remanded for further proceedings.

It had been anticipated that defendant Ronald C. Reynolds would be placed in a facility known as Mariposa House, just south of East Hollywood, but he was picked up one day late from jail and his booking there had been lost. He was taken by a parole agent to a residence that lacked a substance abuse program.

When Reynolds reported spotting a baggie of methamphetamine on the floor, he was told by a staff member, “Well, if somebody has got drugs, they’ve got drugs.” He walked off from the facility and enrolled himself that night at the Clare Foundation, which does have an addiction treatment program.

Reynolds was arrested for being AWOL. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Keith L. Schwartz revoked his probation and sentenced him to three years in prison for the offense to which he had pled guilty pursuant to the plea bargain.

1981 Decision

The sole case relied upon by the Office of Attorney General was People v. Jackson, decided in 1981 by Div. One of this district’s Court of Appeal.

The facts in that case were that a judge sentenced the defendant, pursuant to a plea bargain, to 11 years in prison; he then learned that under a change in the law, the minimum sentence was 15 years, and gave the defendant a choice of withdrawing his plea or being sentenced to the mandatory minimum.

Justice Mildred Lillie (later a presiding justice, now deceased) wrote:

“Appellant’s argument that he was wrongfully denied the benefit of his plea bargain when the court vacated the 11-year sentence is without substance. The only authorized sentence for second degree murder at the time the plea bargain was entered into was imprisonment in the state prison for 15 years to life…thus that portion of the plea bargain relating to the 11-year sentence was illegal.”

Case Distinguished

Moor wrote:

“In this case, there was no evidence that performance was impossible, let alone illegal. Although there was no available space in Mariposa House, the plea agreement provided for placement in a residential treatment program. The release order specified Mariposa House, but the plea agreement contained no such restrictions, and it is clear from the record that the mutual intent was to provide Reynolds with residential treatment, not limited to a specific facility. There was no evidence regarding whether an attempt was made to place Reynolds in a comparable program in conformance with the plea agreement, so we cannot conclude that performance was impossible, or even impracticable, even if we were to conclude that the state’s performance could be excused.”

The Attorney General’s Office argued that taking Reynolds to an alternative facility was justified because admittance to Mariposa House was not possible. Moor responded:

“In Jackson, the Court of Appeal held that the appropriate remedy when it is impossible to perform a term of a plea agreement is to allow the defendant to withdraw his plea….The case does not support the assertion that the state was permitted to simply do its best, however well-intentioned.”

No Complete Redress

He continued:

“In these circumstances, we must conclude that the state did not adhere to the terms of a significant promise it made to induce the plea, and due process requires that Reynolds be afforded an appropriate remedy….With respect to the remedy, in this case specific performance will not bind the trial court to a disposition that it considers inappropriate, or otherwise impinge on its sentencing discretion, nor will it prejudice the People. We cannot fully redress the harm caused by breach of the plea agreement, however—Reynolds was ordered to spend 365 days in residential treatment in lieu of jail time, and has now served over a year in prison. Although the harm to Reynolds would not be completely redressed by specific performance, it appears to us that he may still find that remedy preferable to withdrawing his plea. We therefore conclude that the appropriate remedy is to give Reynolds a choice between specific performance of the plea agreement and withdrawal of his plea.”

The case is People v. Reynolds, B291397.

Susan L. Ferguson of North Hollywood was Reynold’s court-appointed lawyer on appeal. Deputy Attorney General Gregory B. Wagner represented the People.


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