Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Case Summary - Johnathan James Moore v. State

Johnathan Moore, brother to Joshua Moore, pleaded guilty to manufacturing methamphetamine pursuant to a plea bargain. At the time of the plea, the trial court asked if sentencing was supposed to take place at a later date. The trial court offered to postpone sentencing on the condition that Moore agree to appear for sentencing and if he failed to do so, he'd face an open plea. The trial court admonished Moore on the consequences of failing to appear and facing an open plea. Moore agreed to the court's terms.

As you'd expect, Moore failed to appear for sentencing. The trial court sentenced him to 40 years pursuant to his open plea (the original deal was for 28 years). He appealed to complain that he should've been allowed to withdraw his plea, and the court of appeals reversed in a published opinion because the trial court injected itself into the plea bargain process. [Here's a link to the court of appeals case info if you're interested.]

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the trial court. Judge Johnson, writing for a five-judge majority, ultimately held that Moore had failed to preserve error on his claim because he did not object to the terms imposed on him by the trial court or move to withdraw his plea when the trial court at sentencing. The Court noted that the only proper role for a trial court in plea bargaining was advising whether it will follow or reject the bargain. However, it did not decide whether the deal in this case was a modification of the plea bargain agreement or a conditional acceptance of the agreement based upon a side agreement with the defendant. According to the majority, when the judge sentenced the defendant pursuant to his open plea, Moore should have been allowed to withdraw his plea. But again, he didn't try to, so he failed to preserve error, so all's well that ends well. Judges Price and Womack concurred without an opinon. Judges Keasler and Hervey dissented without an opinon. [Here's a link to the CCA case info if you're interested.]