Kernan v. Cuero

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: November 6, 2017
  • Case #: 16-1468
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam
  • Full Text Opinion

There is no precedent that mandates specific performance for a criminal defendant who, after the State filed an amended complaint that required a higher mandatory minimum sentence than the initial complaint, pleads guilty to the amended complaint and is sentenced to serve a longer mandatory minimum.

Respondent was convicted of two felonies and a misdemeanor after he drove his car into an innocent bystander while under the influence of methamphetamine and in possession of an unlicensed firearm. Respondent pled guilty to the two felonies, which allowed for a maximum fourteen year and four month sentence. The trial court accepted the plea and granted Petitioner State of California’s motion to dismiss the misdemeanor. However, Petitioner moved to amend its complaint once it realized one of Respondent’s prior convictions constituted a “strike” under California’s “three strikes” law. This was granted and the court allowed Respondent to withdraw his guilty plea. However, Respondent then subsequently pled guilty to the amended complaint, which added the “strike” that increased the mandatory minimum sentence to twenty-five years to life. The California Court of Appeals affirmed and the California Supreme Court denied Respondent’s state habeas petition. Respondent then filed a habeas petition in federal district court. The petition was denied, however, on appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed reasoning that by not enforcing the initial plea, the trial court contravened “clearly established Federal law” under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The Court granted certiorari and found that the opportunity to withdraw the initial guilty plea was acceptable because there exists no mandate requiring remedial specific performance in the context of plea bargains. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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