LA Appellate Division Upholds Plea Bargaining Ban
Los Angeles County’s Secret Plea Bargaining Prohibition
For those of you that don’t know, January of 2015 began Los Angeles County’s secret ban on plea bargaining on traffic ticket infractions. Born of judicial animus towards defense practitioners, the ban was instituted by the highest ranking criminal judge in The County, by way of memo. Here’s a link to a blog I wrote earlier this year to get you up to speed.
In a nut shell, the highest ranking criminal judge in The County at the time threatened that peace officers would be prosecuted for practicing law without a license, and defense attorneys who approached officers to negotiate a plea bargain on behalf of their clients were aiding and abetting in the unlicensed practice of law. To date, we are unaware of a single criminal case ever been filed.
“RICO Violations” in 2014
Practitioners may recall in 2014, another high ranking judge warned defense attorneys they were committing a RICO violation by simply attempting to negotiate a plea bargain with an officer in a traffic case. While many practitioners weren’t heavily effected, some were admonished from the bench that they “committed a felony” in open court.
How the Plea Bargain Ban Played Out in the Trial Court
Most judges were extremely apprehensive about the 2015 memo, and most erred on the side of prudence, adopting a complete ban on plea bargaining absent the presence of a Los Angeles City Attorney. When it came to Judge pro tems, they were even more apprehensive.
Today, we are about twenty months into the prohibition, and most defense practitioners have been told that the practice of plea bargaining is something they “can’t do anymore.” Most of us refused to go quietly into the night, however, especially considering the companion cases of Missouri v. Frye (132 S. Ct. 1399, 1408 (2012) (Frye) and Lafler v. Cooper (132 S.Ct. 1376, 1384 (2012) (Cooper), in which the United States Supreme Court affirmed that plea bargaining, although controversial, has become a dominant feature of America’s criminal justice system and is here to stay. Both cases establish that a defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining.
Alaska and Texas, Similar Plea Prohibitions
Enter stage left, a judicially enacted prohibition on plea bargaining. But this wasn’t the first time in America where a court system has outlawed plea bargaining. For example, in 1975, the Attorney General of Alaska banned plea bargaining. In examining the ban’s feasibility, an in-depth study found, inter alia, the standard for screening of cases was tightened, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of cases not accepted for prosecution. In another similar ban in Texas, the jury trial rate doubled and the two judges found that they could not move a much enlarged felony caseload during a two year ban on plea bargaining among all the district courts of El Paso Texas from 1976-77.
California “serious felony” defense practitioners also know there are certain crimes which the people have categorically excluded from plea bargaining by way of proposition. (Pen. Cd. § 1192.7(a).) This too, born of an animus of defense counsel. However, a modern serious felony defense practitioner would be well advised to challenge those laws citing Frye and Cooper, supra, as there is a very strong chance they would be struck down.
The Los Angeles Appellate Division Weighs In
The Law Office of Patrick Santos appealed two cases in which defense counsel and the officer agreed to dismiss the traffic violation, but where the trial judge refused to permit the plea bargain, citing the judicial prohibition. One case out of Metropolitan Court, captioned People v. Bayramyan, and another out of Chatsworth, captioned People v. Kledgyan. The cases were consolidated for the purpose of oral argument only.
On August 25, 2016, The Los Angeles Appellate Division issued two written opinions, totaling 14 pages, unpublished. Here is the decision in People v. Bayramyan, and here is the decision in People v. Kledgyan. The court does acknowledge the plea bargaining ban, but rejects every argument. Fourteen pages is a lot for an unpublished opinion by the LA Appellate Department, meaning they gave it the attention it deserved. Ultimately, however, they disagreed.
The Law Office of Patrick Santos intends to seek leave to transfer the case to the Second District Court of Appeal, and to ask that the cases be published, because the issue is of great importance, effecting the ten million residents that reside in Los Angeles on a daily basis. If you want to offer any assistance, or simply be kept in this loop, simply send an email to Patrick@callaw.net.
Patrick Santos is an appellate practitioner and the sole owner of The Ticket Dump, Southern California’s most loved DUI and traffic ticket law office. Send an email, or call anytime at (310) 424-3050.