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Criminal: "Recommend," Without More, Does Not Open A Fixed Plea
Posted in Litigation

Today, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a three-year sentence entered pursuant to a plea agreement that the State would “recommend” that term of imprisonment to the trial court.  In St. Clair v. State, the defendant argued that because the plea agreement "recommended" the three-year term, the trial court "was authorized to impose any lawful sentence, a sentence subject to further consideration on direct appeal."  In its opinion a year ago, a divided Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with St. Clair and remanded so that St. Clair could argue for a lesser sentence (see the Court of Appeals' opinion here).

However, a unanimous Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the use of the word "recommend," without more, meant the plea agreement was fixed, not open.  In St. Clair, the plea agreement was presented to the trial court without any indication that the trial court would have discretion in the imposition of sentence.  That, the Court held, demonstrated that “the parties clearly did not intend to present an open plea agreement to the court.”  Rather, in that context, “[t]he great weight of the evidence suggests that all the parties understood St. Clair’s agreement was one that specified a particular sentence if the court approved the agreement and accepted the plea.”

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