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Misdemeanor Plea Bargains May Bar Felony Prosecution for Same Conduct

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State v. Church (12/4/12), Franklin County Court of Appeals concludes plea bargains are enforceable contracts.

Brian Church is a very lucky man. He was arrested for marijuana possession and jaywalking following a drug buy. The intent of law enforcement was to indict Mr. Church for trafficking in marijuana. However, the act of charging him with the misdemeanors in municipal court cost the state the opportunity to get a felony drug conviction on him. The municipal court prosecutor offered to dismiss the marijuana possession charge if they defendant pled guilty to the jaywalking charge. The trial court accepted this plea on the record and advised the defendant that the marijuana charge was dismissed.

Several months later he was indicted for drug trafficking which arose out of the same marijuana he was possessing when he was arrested. Apparently he bought the marijuana in a sting operation. He filed a Motion to Dismiss the trafficking indictment on Double Jeopardy grounds and contract law (that the plea bargain is a negotiated contract). The trial court denied the motion. The Franklin County Court of Appeals reversed his conviction finding that contract law applies. Specifically, in exchange for dismissing the drug case he agreed to plead guilty to the jaywalking charge. This contract law principle, not double jeopardy, prevented the State from re-charging him unless the State specifically reserved the right to do so on the record.