In a long awaited decision Monday in Doe v. Harris, the California Supreme Court determined that under California law, “the general rule in California is that a plea agreement is ‘deemed to incorporate and contemplate not only the existing law but the reserve power of the state to amend the law or enact additional laws for the public good and in pursuance of public policy. . . .’ (Gipson 117 Cal.App.4th at p. 1070.) ”
Thus, according to the Doe Court “It follows, also as a general rule, that requiring the parties’ compliance with changes in the law made retroactive to them does not violate the terms of the plea agreement, nor does the failure of a plea agreement to reference the possibility the law might change translate into an implied promise the defendant will be unaffected by a change in the statutory consequences attending his or her conviction. To that extent, then, the terms of the plea agreement can be affected by changes in the law. ” (Emphasis added).
The 6-1 decision, which answers a question certified by the Ninth Circuit, resolves whether a change to existing law (specifically, the passage of “Megan’s Law”) which occurred post-plea can be applied to a defendant who pled guilty under the then-current version of P.C. 290 (California’s sex offender registration statute).
While a bad ruling from the criminal defense perspective, it’s notable that the California Supreme Court’s interpretations of law on certified questions have been proven wrong by higher courts before–most recently in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case, where the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately found that for federal purposes the initiative proponents could not defend the measure when the state refused to do so, contrary to what the California Supreme Court determined in a certified question ruling requested by the Ninth Circuit.