San Diego Prosecutors Want to Solidify Plea Deals, Even If Laws Change

A recent investigation from the San Diego Union-Tribune found that the San Diego County District Attorney wants to prevent appeals after a plea deal, even if laws change. Prosecutors in San Diego will require that any sentence imposed as part of a plea bargain remain in effect; defendants may not be able to seek a lesser sentence even if the state legislature or courts change laws which may allow for reduced sentencing. A waiver obtained by the publication states that defendants are not allowed to pursue any new benefits that could be available for them in the future once the plea deal is locked down.

A plea deal is a sentencing offer to the defendant in order “to avoid trial and perhaps reduce his exposure to a more lengthy sentence,” according to the Department of Justice. Assistant District Attorney David Greenberg told the publication the new waiver would only be used in “serious” cases such as homicides or sexual assaults.

“What we’ve decided is, in appropriate cases, we may want to ask for that kind of waiver,” Greenberg told the Union-Tribune. “It is the exception, not the norm.” The waiver has angered defense lawyers and criminal justice reform advocates. Many believe that it invalidates recent changes California has made for the criminal justice system, according to the publication.

“The ground is shifting underneath them,” Kate Chatfield, co-founder and former policy director of the reform group Re:store Justice, told the publication. “They don’t like it. And that’s shameful.” In September, former California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1437, which cut back on prosecutors’ ability to use the “felony murder rule” to charge accomplices with a homicide, The Sacramento Bee previously reported. SB1437 would also allow incarcerated people who are serving time for murder to apply for re-sentencing, according to the publication. The bill states that the only way a person can be convicted of felony murder through the felony murder rule is if they were directly involved with the homicide or “a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life,” according to the publication.

“California’s murder statute irrationally treated people who did not commit murder the same as those who did,” State Senator Nancy Skinner said in a statement at the time to The Sacramento Bee. “SB 1437 makes clear there is a distinction, reserving the harshest punishment to those who directly participate in the death.”

Greenberg told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the new waiver was not a response to those changes, and stated that the waiver could provide victims and their families assurance of the resolution of cases.

Greenberg called the waiver “something that is fair to victims and families of victims. I don’t look at it as frustration. We are just going back to our constitution, which says there is truth in sentencing.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.