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Name: People v. Palmer
Case #: S204409
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 12/05/2013

Stipulation from trial counsel that a factual basis exists for a plea satisfies the requirements of Penal Code section 1192.5 in appropriate cases. Defendant pled no contest to one count of possessing MDMA for sale in exchange for a grant of probation and dismissal of a second charge. During the plea colloquy, defendant agreed that he had discussed the elements of the crime and any defenses with his attorney and that he was satisfied with her advice. He did not state that he was factually innocent at any time. Defense counsel stipulated there was a factual basis for the plea without referencing any documents. On appeal, defendant argued that his attorney’s factual basis stipulation violated the requirements of Penal Code section 1192.5. After the Court of Appeal affirmed, Supreme Court granted review. Held: Affirmed. When a trial court takes a conditional plea of guilty or no contest in a felony case, it must make an inquiry and satisfy itself that there is a factual basis for the plea (Pen. Code, § 1192.5). Here, the Supreme Court decided an issue left open in People v. Holmes (2004) 32 Cal.4th 432, finding that, in appropriate cases, defense counsel’s bare stipulation to a factual basis without reference to any document describing the facts may satisfy the requirements of section 1192.5. It is akin to an evidentiary stipulation, which is conclusive without reference to evidentiary support. In addition, it is within defense counsel’s authority to stipulate to factual and procedural matters on the client’s behalf. Limiting the use of such stipulations might raise concerns for the defense function and could lead to damaging or disputed facts becoming part of the record. In this case, counsel’s stipulation satisfied section 1192.5.

A claim that the trial court failed to establish a factual basis for a plea under section 1192.5 is cognizable on appeal notwithstanding defense counsel’s stipulation to a factual basis. Defendant’s claim implicated the procedures by which the trial court ensured the plea was knowing and voluntary—that he pled to charges corresponding in seriousness to the acts he committed. Defendant did not challenge the evidentiary sufficiency of the prosecution’s case. Thus, his claim goes to the legality of the proceedings and is cognizable on appeal.

Appellate review of defendant’s section 1192.5 claim was not procedurally barred. In the trial court, defendant did not assert that the trial court’s procedure failed to satisfy section 1192.5; he did not claim that his attorney or the court should have identified documents establishing the factual basis of the plea. On appeal, the Attorney General asserted that waiver and estoppel barred the defendant from challenging the factual basis of his plea. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding the application of these principles would be inappropriate in view of the prophylactic purpose behind the factual basis requirement, which ensures that the plea is voluntary and intelligent. The stipulation did not reflect defendant’s agreement that the trial court had satisfied its statutory obligation. The doctrine of judicial estoppel is inapt because defendant was not seeking to gain an advantage by reneging on a promise, but seeking to remedy a defect in the plea procedure.