Trial court loses jurisdiction to enforce plea agreements after sentencing, rules Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a trial court cannot rescind a sentence ordered under a plea agreement when the defendant fails to comply with that agreement after the defendant has already been sentenced. As reported by Court News Ohio, the case before the court,State v. Gilbert, involves a defendant who entered into a plea agreement where he would plead to a number of counts of manslaughter, weapons charges and intimidation of a witness, while other counts were reduced or dismissed, in exchange for testifying against his father in a murder case. The defendant, Kareem Gilbert accepted the deal and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

After beginning his prison term Gilbert refused to testify against his father, and the State accused him of breaching his plea agreement. He was brought back to court and the original plea deal was thrown out. Gilbert then entered another plea and was resentenced, this time for 18 years to life. He appealed to the First District, who reversed the lower court, finding that it did not have the authority to revisit the final judgment after sentencing the defendant, irrespective of whether the plea agreement had been breached.

The Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the decision of the First District, finding "Once the final judgment was entered and Gilbert was sentenced to prison, the trial court lost jurisdiction to vacate its judgment of conviction and to resentence Gilbert. There must be finality to a court’s judgment. There is no authority for a court to revisit a sentence that has already been imposed based on a defendant’s failure to fulfill his obligations under a plea agreement."

In a decision penned by Justice O'Neill, the court acknowledged that while contract rules do generally apply to plea agreements, the trial court loses jurisdiction to enforce them after sentencing occurs. The Court stressed that if the trial court wishes to keep jurisdiction of the case, it should postpone sentencing until after the terms of the agreement are completed, stating "As every teacher knows, you reward the student after the desired behavior occurs, not before. Much like teaching, plea negotiations are driven by the fact that the incentive to do the act in question disappears once the reward has been given."

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justices Lanzinger, Pfeifer and French joined in the majority decision. Justice O'Donnell drafted a dissent which was joined by Justice Kennedy.