Trial court abused its discretion by rejecting a proposed plea bargain without any justification. Loya was charged with evading police, hit and run, resisting arrest, and other offenses. Although he negotiated a plea agreement with the prosecution for a stipulated term, he repeatedly informed the court that he really wanted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) and the court repeatedly responded that it would not accept an NGI plea. At the end of the colloquy, the court refused to take an NGI plea and also refused to accept the plea agreement although Loya said he would sign it. Thereafter, the matter was scheduled for trial, the jury convicted Loya, and he appealed. Held: Reversed. “[W]hen exercising discretion to approve or reject proposed plea bargains, [trial courts] are charged to protect and promote the public’s interest in protecting victims of crimes, vigorous prosecution of the accused, and imposing an appropriate punishment.” Here, the trial court never stated that the plea agreement was unfair, contrary to the public interest, or otherwise unacceptable. The absence of a justification is error. As to the appropriate remedy, Loya requested specific performance of the plea agreement. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding the remedy set forth in In re Alvernaz (1992) 2 Cal.4th 924, 943-944, to be the appropriate one. The case must be remanded for the district attorney to submit the plea bargain to the trial court for its approval unless the district attorney within 30 days elects to retry Loya and resume the plea negotiation process.
Denial of defendant’s motion pursuant to People v. Marsden (1970) 2 Cal.3d 118, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Loya also argued that the trial court erred in denying a number of Marsden motions he made to discharge his attorneys for failing to enter a plea of NGI. The Court of Appeal concluded that, even presuming it was error for the court to deny the Marsden motions, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Loya’s behavior during the crime coupled with his postarrest statements “establish that he was capable of distinguishing right from wrong and knew or understood the nature of his actions.” Loya’s conduct during the crime “did not demonstrate insanity, but rather a strategic effort to avoid capture that showed intentional thinking.” His postarrest statementsthat he ran from police because he had contraband in his caralso showed intentional thinking. Accordingly, any presumed error was harmless.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/F069487.PDF