Saturday, October 25, 2008

What Must Be Shown For A Defendant To Be Entitled To Specific Performance Of A Plea Agreement?

In People v Jenkins (2008 NY Slip Op 07992 [10/23/08]) the Court of Appeals considered who has to prove what in order for a defendant to be entitled to specific compliance of a plea agreement. Specifically who has has the burden of proof of compliance or non-compliance and what does that burden entail? Under what circumstances can a court add additional terms to a plea agreement? By a 6-1 vote, the Court upheld the addition of a term to the plea agreement in a case in which dissenting Judge Pigott writes that
the People did not contest defendant's claim that he was entitled to have the charges dismissed, let alone establish that he was not, nor did the court make such a finding. Indeed, the People never even argued in Supreme Court, the Appellate Division or to this Court that, as of October 2001, defendant had not complied with the terms and conditions of the plea agreement. Rather, the People have consistently argued that Supreme Court properly exercised its discretion in requiring defendant to participate in further services.

Mr. Jenkins pleaded guilty to a drug charge pursuant to a plea agreement permitting him to avoid incarceration upon (1) completing an 18- to 24-month residential drug treatment program at Veritas Therapeutic Community, a Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) program, and completing its aftercare or live-out treatment; (2) completing vocational training including obtaining a General Equivalency Diploma (GED); (3) securing full-time employment and (4) finding "suitable" housing. The plea agreement additionally required defendant to make every court appearance and not be rearrested. The agremtn was that the prosecutor would join in an application for dismissal of the charge upon Jenkins' complettion of these conditions.
Veritas provided regular updates to the court, culminating in letter, two years after the plea, in which Veritas wrote to the court that defendant has completed the two drug treatments programs, has obtained employment. But Vertias also wrote that Jenkins has "unresolved family issues" that would create further problems, if not addressed.
Jenkins moved for dismissal of the charges, alleging compliance with the conditions. The People did not join in, saying that they had not received documentary proof regarding the educational and employment conditions and requested an adjournment to provide the defendant time to submit documentation. The dissent points out that
the court conducted no inquiry and, presumably, made no determination as to whether defendant had, in fact, met all of the conditions of the plea agreement. Significantly, the People made no claim that defendant had not successfully completed the program. Rather, the People requested two to three weeks to respond and sought defendant's cooperation in providing certain documents. The court held an off-the-record discussion at the bench. What exactly was said during this discussion is unknown, but it caused defense counsel to withdraw the motion. What is known is that the parties talked about the "unresolved family issues" identified in the October 11th Veritas letter and that the court adjourned the matter to look into getting defendant "some other support services." Defendant voiced his objection stating, among other things, that he "completed everything there is to complete in this program.

The majority of the Court holds that having withdrawn the motion
Under these circumstances, where defendant had failed to provide satisfactory proof that he completed all of the conditions of his agreement, the People were entitled to an adjournment and not required to join in the motion to dismiss. Neither was Supreme Court compelled to "turn a blind eye" and dismiss this case in the furtherance of justice. To be sure, Supreme Court could not pass favorably on defendant's Clayton motion without evidentiary support demonstrating that he had complied with the terms of the agreement as CPL 210.40 requires the court to articulate on which factors it relies in dismissing an indictment. Affording the trial court this discretion does not, as the dissent maintains, improperly shift the burden of proof from the People to defendant.

By contrast, Judge Pigott, in dissent writes that
Clearly, it was Supreme Court's duty to make sufficient inquiry, at the time of the motion, as to whether defendant had complied with the terms of the plea agreement. I disagree with the majority that defendant's failure to provide documentation regarding the successful completion of the program excused such inquiry by the court; to so hold improperly shifts the burden of proof from the People to the defendant to prove his compliance with the plea agreement- something we have never done. But even assuming the burden was on the defendant, the facts found in this record seem to support his claim. The Court had in its possession monthly progress reports from Veritas, as well as the October 11th letter, indicating that defendant had successfully completed the program: a determination that Veritas was to make under the plea agreement. What remained for the court to determine was whether OSN had approved of his housing and whether defendant had committed any new crimes. The October 11th Veritas letter confirmed that defendant had been residing with his family. OSN never objected to defendant's housing nor his compliance with any of the other terms of the plea agreement during his ]treatment. Indeed, OSN only objected to his housing on October 23, 2001, two weeks after the return date, and the objection was conditional, i.e. defendant had to find another residence if his girlfriend did not attend treatment meetings.
Further, in my view, while well intentioned, Supreme Court erred in adjourning the matter to determine whether family counseling was needed for defendant, and also erred in imposing family counseling as a condition.