Arizona Defendant Successfully Argues for Vacated Plea Deal in Light of 2020 Marijuana Legalization

In a recent case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant asked for his 2017 plea deal to be vacated and reconsidered. Five years ago, the defendant pled guilty to several crimes and was sentenced with a marijuana conviction on his record. Given the 2020 legalization of recreational marijuana in Arizona, the defendant argued that his original sentence should be reconsidered. Looking at the facts of the case, the higher court ultimately agreed with the defendant and ended up sending his case back to the lower court so that it could recalculate the defendant’s sentence.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant pled guilty in 2017 to two counts of sex trafficking. When the defendant and the State were negotiating his plea deal, the defendant admitted that he had seven previous felony convictions on his record – one of these offenses was possession of marijuana in 2004. Because of the combination of these previous convictions and the 2017 convictions, the defendant was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

In 2020, however, Arizona voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. As part of that new law, adults that had been previously convicted of marijuana use could be eligible to have those convictions removed from their records. Here, the defendant filed a petition before the court after this 2020 law passed, arguing that his 2004 marijuana conviction should be vacated. If the 2004 conviction were removed, he argued, the defendant’s overall sentence would be less than the 12 years he received.

The court of appeals reviewed the defendant’s appeal in light of the 2020 law that was passed.

The Decision

In looking at the facts of the case, the court ultimately decided that the defendant’s marijuana conviction was, indeed, eligible for expungement. Because that conviction could be wiped from the defendant’s record, the basis of the 2017 plea deal was now different.

The defendant’s plea deal specifically mentioned his 2004 marijuana conviction, and without this conviction, the terms of the plea were no longer intact. Thus, said the court, the rational thing to do would be to vacate the plea agreement and remand the case back to the trial court so it could determine how long the defendant should be incarcerated. The defendant’s recalculated sentence, said the higher court, will likely be lower than it had been in 2017.

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