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Smith v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 20, 2013

MICHELLE SMITH APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2010-CA-002237-MR CRITTENDEN CIRCUIT COURT NO. 09-CR-00036

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Julia Karol Pearson Assistant Public Advocate.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Jack Conway Attorney General of Kentucky Gregory C. Fuchs Assistant Attorney General John Paul Varo Assistant Attorney General.

OPINION

SCOTT, JUSTICE.

I. BACKGROUND

On June 1, 2009, Appellant, Michelle Smith, was indicted for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (PDP), Second Offense. On September 10, 2009, Appellant pled guilty to the charge, and, pursuant to a plea agreement, she received a five-year pretrial diversion. At the time Appellant entered into the diversion, the penalty for Second Offense PDP, a Class D felony, was from one to five years in prison. However, the Kentucky General Assembly amended the statute in April 2010, after which amendment a second or subsequent offense of PDP became a Class A misdemeanor, with a possible penalty of ninety days to twelve months in the county jail.

On October 14, 2010, a diversion revocation hearing was held due to the fact that Appellant pled guilty to driving under the influence (DUI), First Offense. At her sentencing hearing, Appellant requested that the trial court continue her diversion given that PDP, Second Offense, the crime for which she was originally charged/was how a misdemeanor under the new statute, and/or apply the new sentence for PDP, Second Offense at her sentencing hearing. However, the trial court voided the diversion agreement and sentenced Appellant to felony time in accordance with the prior law.

On appeal, a panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, although on different grounds. Appellant then moved this Court for discretionary review, which we granted. We now reverse and remand back to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Illegality of Sentence

Appellant argues that her constitutional rights to fundamental fairness and due process, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Sections 2 and 11 of the Kentucky Constitution, were violated. Specifically, Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it did not retroactively apply the mitigating benefits of KRS 218A.500(5) to her sentence. We review questions of law de novo. Kentucky Pub. Serv. Comm'n v. Commonwealth ex rel. Conway, 324 S.W.3d 373, 376 (Ky. 2010).

1. Plea Agreements are Voidable Contracts

This Court has held that "[p]lea agreements are often bargained-for exchanges, and are governed by basic contract law." Commonwealth v. Morseman, 379 S.W.3d 144, 149 (Ky.. 2012) {quoting Covington v. Commonwealth, 295 S.W.3d 814, 816 (Ky. 2009). For these reasons, this Court applies traditional principles of contract law when interpreting and enforcing plea agreements. Furthermore, plea agreements are "constitutional contracts" which "must be construed in light of the rights and obligations created by the constitution." Commonwealth v. Reyes, 764 S.W.2d 62, 64-66 (Ky. 1989) {quoting Ricketts v. Adamson, 483 U.S. 1 (1987)).

However, courts are given the authority to void a plea agreement under KRS 533.256, which states in pertinent part, "[i]f the defendant fails to complete the provisions of the pretrial diversion agreement within the time specified . . . the attorney for the Commonwealth may apply to the court for a hearing to determine whether or not the pretrial division agreement should be voided and the court should proceed on the defendant's plea of guilty in accordance with the law." (Emphasis added.) For this reason, when Appellant ...


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