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Arbuckle Waiver Explained: Changing Judges After a Bargain

An Arbuckle Waiver refers to a legal concept originating from the California case, People v. Arbuckle (1978), in which the California Supreme Court held that a defendant is entitled to be sentenced by the same judge who accepted their plea unless the defendant waives this right. This waiver is known as an “Arbuckle Waiver.”
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Arbuckle Waiver Explained

According to Dorado & Dorado, an Arbuckle Waiver allows a different judge to sentence a defendant even if the judge who accepted the plea is unavailable on the sentencing day. This waiver is essential for ensuring the sentencing process can proceed smoothly without unnecessary delays [1].

What is an Arbuckle Waiver?
An Arbuckle Waiver is the defendant’s waiver of the right to be sentenced by the same judge who accepted their plea. This means that if the original judge is not available, a different judge can still conduct the sentencing.

The Right to Consistent Sentencing
A defendant typically has the right to be sentenced by the judge who accepted their plea. This ensures that the judge who initially exercised discretion in accepting the plea also handles the sentencing. If a different judge were to sentence the defendant without an Arbuckle Waiver, it might appear that the new judge lacks the necessary discretion, potentially complicating the process.

Example Scenario
Consider David, who signs a plea bargain to plead guilty to criminal threats, agreeing to a low-term prison sentence of sixteen months. David is entitled to be sentenced by the same judge who accepted his plea. If this judge is unavailable on the sentencing date and no Arbuckle Waiver is in place, David can withdraw his plea. However, with an Arbuckle Waiver, a different judge can proceed with the sentencing.

Practical Implications
In most cases, an Arbuckle Waiver is not a critical term in a plea bargain. If the sentencing judge differs from the plea-accepting judge, the issue usually only causes minor delays. This is because most plea agreements include a provision allowing the defendant to withdraw their plea if the judge does not adhere to the agreement terms.

Even with the waiver, the sentencing judge generally follows the terms of the plea agreement. The primary benefit of an Arbuckle Waiver is to save time, ensuring the sentencing process continues without interruptions.

Immediate Sentencing and Arbuckle Waiver
In instances where the defendant is ordered to jail or prison immediately after entering a plea, the same judge handles both the plea and sentencing. In such cases, an Arbuckle Waiver is unnecessary.

Understanding Judge Reassignments and the Arbuckle Waiver

According to Simmrin Law Group, several scenarios can lead to a judge being replaced between the acceptance of a plea bargain and the sentencing hearing. Judges might be reassigned, go on vacation, or retire, necessitating the appointment of a new judge for the sentencing phase [2]

Defendant’s Options
When a judge is replaced, the defendant has two options:

File an Arbuckle Waiver: This waiver allows the new judge to impose the sentence.
Withdraw the Plea: The defendant can choose to withdraw their plea and potentially go to trial.

Strategic Considerations
In some instances, a change in judges may be advantageous for the defendant. For example, if the original judge was known to be tough but the evidence strongly suggested a plea deal, the defendant might benefit from a more lenient new judge. Filing an Arbuckle Waiver in this situation could result in a more favorable outcome.

Conversely, if the original judge was lenient and the new judge has a reputation for being strict, the defendant might prefer to withdraw their plea and take their chances at trial.

What Happens if My Arbuckle Rights are Violated?

According to SCLG, if you enter a guilty or no-contest plea and the judge who accepts the agreement retains sentencing discretion, but a different judge is assigned to sentence you, this situation violates your Arbuckle rights [3]. In such cases, you have several options:

  • Enforce Arbuckle Rights: Demand to be sentenced by the judge who accepted your plea deal.
  • File an Arbuckle Waiver: Agree to be sentenced by the new judge.
  • Withdraw the Plea Deal: Revoke your plea and proceed with the case.

Common Violations in Large Courthouses
In large courthouses with numerous judges, violations of Arbuckle rights are not uncommon. Changes such as judge reassignments, leaves, or retirements between your plea agreement and sentencing hearing can impact your rights. If this occurs, you can either file an Arbuckle Waiver or withdraw your plea deal, moving your criminal case past the arraignment and closer to a jury trial.

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