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State v. Slotsky

Supreme Court of South Dakota

July 27, 2016

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
LISA BETH SLOTSKY, Defendant and Appellant.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON APRIL 25, 2016

          REASSIGNED JUNE 30, 2016

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT GREGORY COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE KATHLEEN F. TRANDAHL Judge

          MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General ANN C. MEYER Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          SANDY J. STEFFEN Gregory, South Dakota Attorney for defendant and appellant.

          WILBUR, Justice (on reassignment).

         [¶1.] Lisa Slotsky agreed to plead guilty to a charge of unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance in exchange for the State dismissing the remaining charges. The State also agreed to recommend a light sentence with no jail time. The circuit court sentenced Slotsky to five years in prison with one year suspended. Slotsky appeals her sentence, arguing that the State breached the plea agreement. We reverse and remand for resentencing.

         Background

         [¶2.] After a traffic stop for speeding in March 2015, the State charged Slotsky with unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance, driving under the influence, driving while license is revoked, and speeding. Slotsky pleaded not guilty. In August 2015, the circuit court held a change-of-plea hearing. At the hearing, counsel for Slotsky indicated that Slotsky "will plead guilty to the ingestion charge in Count I. And the court - - or, the State will make a recommendation of Hope Court with no jail time." The State also agreed to dismiss the remaining charges. The court accepted Slotsky's guilty plea.

         [¶3.] In September 2015, the circuit court held a sentencing hearing. At the hearing, counsel for Slotsky argued that Hope Court would be an appropriate sentence to rehabilitate Slotsky and to help her overcome her addiction. When the court asked for the State's response, the State explained that Hope Court "was going to be my recommendation[, ] . . . [b]ut, shortly after that plea was entered, it's concerning to me the charges that were filed against her in Tripp County, mostly because those aren't another substance-abuse charge; those are serious felonies[.]" The State also emphasized that Slotsky's criminal history suggests that Slotsky may not be "able to maintain any type of long-term sobriety once Hope Court is over for her." The State also asserted that Slotsky's history and the charges in Tripp County raise "red flags about her ability to, not necessarily be clean and sober, but her ability to maintain laws and not cause harm to other people in the community[.]" The State asked the court to "consider that in imposing any type of sentence."

         [¶4.] Slotsky objected and asserted that the "plea agreement, stated on the record, was that [the State] would do this plea . . . and this whole line of argument is going against what the plea agreement was." The State responded, "I stated initially I still don't have an objection to her being placed on Hope Court, but I think I have a right to have my concerns on the record for any matter in to the future." It further contended, "And I have not asked her to be placed in the penitentiary for any period of time." The circuit court sentenced Slotsky to five years in prison with one year conditionally suspended. Slotsky appeals, asserting that the State breached the plea agreement.

         Analysis

         [¶5.] When analyzing whether the State breaches a plea agreement, we apply ordinary principles of contract law. State v. Waldner, 2005 S.D. 11, ¶ 8, 692 N.W.2d 187, 190. "Like all contracts, plea agreements include an implied obligation of good faith and fair dealing." State v. Morrison, 2008 S.D. 116, ¶ 5, 759 N.W.2d 118, 120 (quoting Erickson v. Weber, 2008 S.D. 30, ¶ 27, 748 N.W.2d 739, 746). Therefore, "[w]hen the government fails to fulfill a material term of a plea agreement, the defendant may seek specific performance or may seek to withdraw his plea." State v. Bracht, 1997 S.D. 136, ¶ 6, 573 N.W.2d 176, 178 (quoting United States v. Barresse, 115 F.3d 610, 612 (8th Cir. 1997)).

         [¶6.] Here, Slotsky contends that the State breached the plea agreement when the State failed to recommend Hope Court and no jail time. According to Slotsky, the State impliedly argued for a harsher sentence. In response, the State asserts that it "did not renege on any deal by implicitly arguing for a tougher penalty at sentencing." In the State's view, it upheld its end of the plea agreement because it did not object to Slotsky being placed in Hope Court and it never argued that Slotsky be sentenced to the penitentiary for any length of time.

         [¶7.] "[W]hen a plea rests in any significant degree on a promise or agreement of the prosecutor, so that it can be said to be part of the inducement or consideration, such promise must be fulfilled." Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 262, 92 S.Ct. 495, 499, 30 L.Ed.2d 427 (1971); Waldner, 2005 S.D. 11, ¶ 9, 692 N.W.2d at 190. This is because, by pleading guilty, the defendant gives up her bargaining power. So "[o]nce the defendant has given up his 'bargaining chip' by pleading guilty, due process requires that the defendant's expectations be fulfilled." Morrison, 2008 S.D. 116, ¶ 5, 759 N.W.2d at 120 (quoting Waldner, 2005 S.D. 11, ΒΆ 13, 692 N.W.2d at 191-92). And it does not matter if the State breaches the plea agreement inadvertently; "the defendant is still entitled to a remedy for ...


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