Improper sentencing nixes plea bargain

Jessica Robertson, Volume 50 Articles Editor JUDGE ALCALA DELIVERED THE OPINION FOR A UNANIMOUS COURT. The issue in this case is what remedy is proper for an illegal sentence imposed as a result of a charge-bargained guilty plea. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that parties in this situation must be returned to their original positions prior to entering into a negotiated plea-bargain for an illegal range of punishment. In Thomas v. State, Thomas entered an open plea of guilty to state-jail felony theft as a lessor-included offense of third-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity. The State sought to enhance the state-jail felony with two prior charges. As a result, the parties incorrectly believed that appellant was subject to a punishment range for a second-degree felony, subsequently causing the sentencing to be illegally set out of range. Counsel for Thomas successfully persuaded the court of appeals to uphold the plea bargain and hold a new punishment trial. The State contends in its petition for review, however, that the proper remedy is to set aside the plea and judgment because the bargained-for exchange has been undermined. Here, the Court recognized that—based on the contractual nature of plea bargains—a charge bargain is … Continue reading Improper sentencing nixes plea bargain