January 16, 2012 By Wallin & Klarich

For hundreds of years California criminal judges have been allowed to make an “offer” to a defendant facing a felony charges when the District Attorney refuses to do so. This has been called an “indicated sentence”. The judge tells the defendant that if he pleads guilty to all of the charges pending against him he will give him an “indicated sentence” of a number of years in state prison.

This offer is almost always a substantially better offer than what the District Attorney is willing to make to the accused.

The court of appeals in People vs. Clancey threw out a judicial “offer” that had been made by the judge to the defendant. The court of appeal ruled 2 to 1 that judge cannot make offers to defendants. The court said that they cannot make anything more than a “prediction”. For years the court would tell a defendant that if he plead guilty he would receive a set sentence and if after the judge read the probation report the judge did not feel that sentence was sufficient then the defendant could withdraw his plea.

After this decision, this type of “judicial-defendant” agreement is no longer legal.

What this means is that a defendant will have to either accept the District Attorneys offer (which is normally not a very good one) or plead guilty to all the charges and “hope” that the judge gives him a fair sentence based upon the judge’s “prediction” as to what he might do. However, the judge is no longer bound by that “prediction” and that will mean that thousands of defendants will risk very little by going to jury trial. When this occurs the result will be that it will likely be impossible to provide enough courts for all of these jury trials. This will mean the court will have to dismiss some serious felony cases if a defendant is not permitted to have his jury trial within his statutory right to a jury trial, which is within sixty calendar days of his arraignment.

Unless our California legislature takes quick action to change the law to permit judicial offers to be made to defendants all hell is going to break loose in our criminal courts system very soon.

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