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Name: Doe v. Harris
Case #: S191948
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 07/01/2013

The general rule in California is that a plea agreement is deemed to incorporate the existing law as well as any subsequent changes to that law intended to be retroactive. In 1991, plaintiff entered into a plea negotiation whereby he pled no contest to lewd and lascivious acts upon a child under the age of fourteen in exchange for dismissal of other counts. The written plea form specified the maximum penalties as well as an advisement of the registration requirement. At the time, the information provided for the registration was not open to public scrutiny. However, in 2004, the Legislature passed Megan’s Law, which provides a means for the public to access information about registered sex offenders. The Legislature expressly made the public notification provisions retroactive and, thus, applicable to petitioner’s conviction. Petitioner filed a federal claim asserting that his plea agreement would be violated by requiring him to comply with the amendments to the registration law because the agreement should be governed by the law in effect at the time of his plea. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals requested input from the California Supreme Court as to whether a plea agreement contemplates only the law in effect at the time of the agreement. The Supreme Court, noting that a plea agreement is a form of a contract and is interpreted according to general contract principles, held that plea bargains are deemed to incorporate not only existing law but also the state’s reserve power to amend the law for the public good. Thus, requiring parties to comply with changes in the law made retroactive to them does not violate the terms of the plea agreement. Additionally, the failure of a plea agreement to reference the possibility of changes in the law does not translate into an implied promise the defendant will be unaffected by statutory amendments.