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BlogsPublications | September 1, 2016
3 minute read

COA: Defects in the plea taking process entitles a defendant to withdraw entire plea, not just “defective” portion of plea

In People v. Blanton, No. 328690, the Court of Appeals considered an issue of first impression in Michigan of whether an error in a plea proceeding allows a defendant to withdraw his plea in total or only with respect to the defective portion of his plea.  The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision that a defendant has the right to withdraw his or her entire plea deal if there is a defect in the plea process.

Defendant was charged with multiple crimes in connection with his shooting a victim with the intent to steal the victim’s sunglasses and a cell phone.  Defendant was offered a plea deal.  During the plea proceeding, Defendant was advised of the maximum penalties and any concurrent sentences that would run for each crime, except for the felony-firearm charge.  Defendant ultimately pled guilty to all charges.  Following his sentence, defendant moved the trial court to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that his plea was not knowingly, understandingly, and voluntarily entered into, in violation of MCR 6.302(B)(2), because the trial court failed to advise him of the maximum possible penalty for the felony-firearm charge or that the sentence would run consecutive to the other sentences.  Accordingly, because there was “an error in the plea proceeding,” he claimed he was entitled, under MCR 6.310(C), to withdraw his plea.  The prosecution argued that the error entitled defendant to withdraw his guilty plea only to the felony-firearm charge and disputed the notion that defendant was entitled to withdraw “all his pleas to the charged offenses.”  The trial court agreed with defendant’s position that the plea agreement was a “comprehensive deal” which was not divisible.

The Court of Appeals recognized that no Michigan case law had previously discussed this issue.  It found a Washington Supreme Court case, State v Turley, 149 Wash 2d 396; 69 P3d 338 (2003), which addressed this very issue, persuasive.  In Turley, the Washington Supreme Court held that where the objective circumstances espouse an intent by the prosecution and defendant to treat a plea agreement to multiple charges as a “package deal, the plea agreement is indivisible and the defendant is permitted, upon showing a defect, to withdraw the plea in its entirety, even where the defect pertains only to one charge.  The Court of Appeals found that other states have also applied contract principles to determine that a plea agreement is indivisible and therefore not capable of being partially withdrawn. See, e.g., Whitaker v State, 881 So 2d 80 (Fla App 2004) (finding that the trial court erred in granting only partial withdrawal of the defendant’s guilty plea because the record demonstrated that the parties intended to negotiate the defendant’s pleas to several charges as part of a “package” in exchange for the dismissal of other charges).

Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that Defendant was allowed to withdraw his entire plea and not just his plea as to the felony-firearm charge.