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Name: People v. Miller
Case #: F061552
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 01/27/2012

For public policy reasons, a defendant who pled no contest to an offense as a felony as part of his plea bargain may be estopped from vacating the plea and modifying the conviction to a misdemeanor, even though the offense can only be a misdemeanor. In 2005, appellant entered into a plea bargain whereby he pled no contest to possession of diazepam (valium), as a felony, and driving under the influence, in exchange for dismissal of other counts, which included a felony. Appellant was granted probation, which terminated in 2009. Appellant then brought a motion to vacate the plea to the felony and modify the conviction to a misdemeanor. The prosecutor and court agreed with appellant’s contention that possession of diazepam was, at most, a misdemeanor, but for public policy reasons the court denied the motion. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that equitable estoppel barred appellant from receiving his requested relief. The court explained that although public policy dictates against allowing defendants to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, there is also a strong interest in preventing defendants to unfairly manipulate the system by receiving benefits from a plea bargain and then complaining of some of the provisions of the bargain. Here, appellant was advised of the consequences of a felony conviction and agreed to them; his conduct was serious and jeopardized others; although the possession of diazepam could not be a felony, appellant was otherwise charged with felony offenses that appeared to be provable and for which appellant was exposed to the same sentence he actually received.