Defendant’s breach of plea agreement allows state to back out

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The Indiana Court of Appeals addressed an issue of first impression Thursday: whether the state can withdraw from a plea agreement after the trial court has accepted it. The state was allowed to withdraw its agreement with a defendant after the man refused to testify at his co-conspirator’s trial, which was part of the deal.

Robert Campbell was charged with nine counts relating to the 2012 death of Mike Seske. He entered into a plea agreement with the state that would drop eight of the charges in exchange for him pleading guilty to murder. As part of the deal, Campbell agreed to testify against the five other co-defendants.

The trial court accepted the plea agreement in May 2013, but in September 2013, the state filed a motion to withdraw from the plea agreement based on Campbell’s noncompliance. He refused to testify during the trial of his co-defendant and was found in direct criminal contempt of court.

Campbell stipulated that he had breached the terms of the plea deal, but said the state still received some benefit by virtue of his plea agreement, so it should remain bound by its terms.

“If we were to adopt Campbell’s argument that upon the trial court’s acceptance of a plea agreement, the State may not withdraw under any circumstances and the trial court must proceed directly to sentencing, the floodgates would be thrown wide open for criminal defendants to make duplicitous promises to prosecutors in order to reduce their own penal exposure, knowing that their negotiated sentences would be preserved regardless of their non-compliance. Such a holding would ‘undermine the integrity and credibility of the criminal justice system,’” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in Robert Campbell v. State of Indiana, 89A04-1312-CR-634.

“Accordingly, even though the trial court had already accepted the Plea Agreement and entered a judgment of conviction, we conclude that Campbell’s subsequent breach warranted the State’s withdrawal from the Plea Agreement prior to the imposition of any sentence.”

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