State v. Robertson, COA23-24, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Sept. 5, 2023)

In this Cabarrus County case, defendant appealed judgment entered on his guilty plea, arguing that the trial court refused to allow him to withdraw his plea after imposing a sentence differing from the plea agreement. The Court of Appeals agreed, vacating the judgment and remanding for further proceedings. 

In August of 2022, defendant entered a plea agreement for felony fleeing to elude arrest. The agreement specified that defendant would receive a suspended sentence in the presumptive range. However, at defendant’s plea hearing, the trial court imposed an additional “split sentence of 30 days” in jail as a special condition of probation. Slip Op. at 2. Defense counsel moved to strike the plea, but the trial court denied the motion. 

After reviewing the applicable caselaw and statutes, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by failing to strictly adhere to the terms of the plea agreement. Based upon the transcript, it appeared that the trial court felt the addition was permitted because the plea agreement did not mention special conditions related to probation. The court explained: 

Our courts have held that strict adherence to plea arrangements means giving the defendant what they bargained for. . . [t]o the extent the terms of the arrangement—including whether the parties had agreed to the imposition of a special condition of probation—were unclear, the trial court should have sought clarification from the parties rather than impose a sentence it decided was appropriate.

Id. at 6-7.