A Plea Deal Gone Wrong in West Virginia – State v. Fields

A plea deal offer isn’t exactly a free ticket for a walk in the park. Although these agreements – in which a person charged with a crime agrees to admit to some version of the crime in exchange for the possibility of a lesser punishment – can be a valuable tool for a criminal defendant, they also come with some risk. For example, there is the risk that the defendant will still wind up getting sentenced to a long stretch in prison, as a recent case out of the West Virginia Supreme Court shows.

fountain-pen-1-1478600Mr. Fields was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree robbery without the use of a firearm. Fields and another man robbed a gas station at gun point in June 2013, according to the Court, and he was later arrested and charged with first-degree robbery. Fields later entered a plea deal with prosecutors in which he agreed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of robbery without the use of a firearm. A circuit court accepted the guilty plea.

At the sentencing hearing that followed, Fields asked the circuit court for the minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years. He also asked that the court place him in an inpatient drug treatment facility. State prosecutors also recommended that Fields be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Nevertheless, the circuit judge opted to triple the amount of prison time to a total of 30 years.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in handing down the punishment. Unlike many other criminal offenses, there is no maximum sentence for first-degree robbery, or robbery without the use of a firearm. The high court explained that it was not authorized to re-try the entire case with a fresh set of eyes, but instead it needed to determine whether the sentence was within legal limits and not based on any factors that have been deemed impermissible.

Here, the Court said Fields failed to show that the sentence was so disproportionate that it was unconstitutional. The Court observed that there are two tests often used to weigh the constitutionality of a criminal sentence. The first is a “subjective test and asks whether the sentence for a particular crime shocks the conscience of the Court and society,” the Supreme Court explained. If the sentence doesn’t shock the conscience, courts look to “more objective factors which include the consideration of the nature of the offense, the defendant’s past criminal history, and his proclivity to engage in violent acts.”

The 30-year stint in the slammer didn’t shock the Court’s conscience. Instead, it said the evidence showed that Fields and his associate entered the gas station with masks on and robbed the cashier at gun point. They then used the money to buy illegal drugs and attempted to elude police by getting rid of the gun and masks. Turning to the more objective test, the Court said the sentence was warranted based on Fields’ criminal history and risk of breaking the law again. “[W]e find the sentence imposed to be in line with other sentences upheld by this Court,” the Supreme Court concluded.

It’s important that a person facing any criminal charges seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Plea Deals and ‘Double Jeopardy’ in West Virginia Drug Cases – State v. Ferrell

Appealing a Criminal Conviction in West Virginia – State v. Imoh

Are You Eligible for Bail? Pretrial Detention in West Virginia Criminal Cases – U.S. v. Lezine