COA reverses trial court that sua sponte vacated defendant’s guilty plea when defendant had not breached the terms of the plea agreement

In most cases, trial courts may only vacate a criminal defendant’s guilty plea on the defendant’s motion, with the defendant’s consent, or on the prosecutor’s motion if the defendant breached the terms of the plea agreement under MCR 6.310(B)(1) and (E). In People v. Martinez, No. 311804, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion by sua sponte vacating the defendant’s guilty plea, reasoning that the plea agreement was not based on a "mutual mistake of fact".

The defendant, who was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, agreed to plead guilty to second-degree criminal sexual conduct on the condition that the prosecutor dismiss the first-degree charge along with “any other charges stemming out of this particular investigation.” After the court accepted the plea, the complainant alleged additional past acts of abuse, which were not part of the police report. The prosecutor brought new charges, which the defendant moved to quash. The court concluded that the plea agreement was based on a “mutual mistake of fact” because the new allegations were not contained in the original police report. The court vacated the guilty plea and the defendant was eventually convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct at trial.

The court examined MCR 6.310, the court rule governing withdrawal of guilty pleas. MCR 6.310(B)(1) provides for withdrawal on the defendant’s motion or with the defendant’s consent, while MCR 6.310(E) provides for withdrawal on the prosecutor’s motion if the defendant violated the terms of the plea agreement. The court held that neither of these subsections applied to the case at hand. The court then examined the trial court’s reasons for vacating the guilty plea, since a few other cases from the Michigan Court of Appeals have affirmed a trial court’s vacation of a guilty plea under circumstances not contemplated by the court rules. The Court of Appeals concluded that no mutual mistake of fact existed and the trial court misinterpreted the word “investigation” to mean “police reports,” which the parties could have agreed upon, but did not. Since investigation is broader than police reports, the additional allegations were still part of the same investigation even though they were not contained in the police reports. Therefore, the trial court had no valid reason to vacate the guilty plea.