Can a trial judge intervene in plea negotiations?

California, United States of America

The following excerpt is from The People v. Gutierrez, B218292, No. MA038763 (Cal. App. 2010):

parties. In the universe of plea-bargained cases, judicial involvement may occur anywhere along a continuum, from the outset or only after the parties have reached a tentative agreement. At some point, the judge must approve the deal." (People v. Casillas (1997) 60 Cal.App.4th 445, 452.)

A trial judge may properly encourage the parties to attempt an informal resolution, so long as he or she remains impartial. "There is no rule in California forbidding judicial involvement in plea negotiations. Nonetheless courts have expressed strong reservation about the practice." (People v. Weaver (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 131, 148.) The mere fact the court acknowledged some level of involvement does not support a finding such involvement was improper. Indeed, a prior statement by the court shows the court was fully aware of the need to be restrained as to the level of its involvement with plea discussions.

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