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What is an Arbuckle Waiver?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Apr 16, 2024

If you have been charged with a crime in California and have entered a plea agreement, California law says you have the legal right to be sentenced by the same judge who accepted your plea bargain. 

This legal concept has come to be known as "Arbuckle rights," originating from the 1978 case People v. Arbuckle, wherein the California Supreme Court acknowledged the defendant's right to have the sentencing judge who accepted their plea bargain also preside over their sentencing. 

Arbuckle Waiver in California

The rationale behind this right is based on the understanding that the judge who took the plea is likely the most familiar with the nuances of the case and, therefore, in the best position to issue a fair and appropriate sentence. 

Simply put, an Arbuckle waiver is when you forego the right to have the same judge who accepted your plea bargain also handle your sentencing hearing. You have the right to have the same judge for both stages of the process, but you waive that right with an Arbuckle waiver.

The Supreme Court recognized the general principle that you have a right to have the sentencing judge be the same judge that accepted your plea deal if the trial court judge retained sentencing discretion pursuant to your plea agreement. 

They also recognized that the identity of the sentencing judge was a significant factor in your decision to plead guilty to a crime, even if it was a misdemeanor.

If the judge who accepted your plea bargain retained sentencing discretion, this became an implied term in the plea agreement. You have a right to enforce that implied term of the agreement.

That being said, there may be situations in which your California criminal defense attorney advises you to waive your Arbuckle rights. Doing so is known as an Arbuckle waiver. Let's discuss your Arbuckle rights and when waiving them may be more beneficial.

What is the Significance of Arbuckle Rights?

In most cases, it serves the defendant's best interest to have the same judge who accepted their plea bargain also preside over their sentencing. This judge has a deeper understanding of the case and may consider any mitigating factors or other aspects that may warrant a more lenient sentence. 

Arbuckle Rights in California

Additionally, having the same judge for both proceedings can also provide a sense of continuity and consistency in the judicial process. For Arbuckle rights to apply, the judge who accepted your plea must also retain sentencing discretion. 

In the eyes of the courts, this effectively becomes an "implied term" of the plea bargain. If the judge does not specifically retain this discretion, Arbuckle rights do not apply.

Your Arbuckle rights are important to your case because it's not just about the judge accepting your plea agreement—it's also about you accepting it. 

The idea is that your choice to accept a plea agreement might have been influenced by the judge's implied promises or expectations, and switching judges after a plea deal has been reached could result in a different sentence than was implied or expected. 

Enforcing your Arbuckle rights ensures that the integrity of the plea-bargaining process is maintained and that you decided to plead guilty with a clear understanding of the sentencing implications.

Arbuckle Waiver - Explained

As noted, an Arbuckle waiver occurs when a defendant willingly relinquishes their Arbuckle rights, meaning they agree to allow a different judge to handle their sentencing

Signing an Arbuckle waiver typically involves a formal process where the defendant acknowledges their understanding of the rights they are giving up and the potential consequences thereof.

The implications of signing an Arbuckle waiver are significant. It introduces an element of unpredictability into the sentencing phase, as different judges may have varying perspectives on punishment severity. 

Therefore, a defendant's decision to waive these rights should be made carefully, considering the potential outcomes and consulting with their legal counsel.

What are the Conditions for Considering an Arbuckle Waiver?

There are several scenarios where filing an Arbuckle waiver might be advantageous, such as the following:  

  • Strategic Considerations. In some cases, the defense might assess that a different judge could offer a more favorable sentencing outcome due to various factors such as judicial temperament, sentencing trends, or specific legal interpretations. Conversely, suppose your current presiding judge has been known for giving more severe sentencing. In that case, your attorney may advise that keeping the option open for another judge to preside over sentencing may result in a more lenient outcome.
  • Expediency. Scheduling conflicts or other logistical issues with the original judge might lead to substantial delays in sentencing. Agreeing to an Arbuckle waiver can expedite the sentencing process, which might be in the defendant's best interest, especially if time in custody is a concern.
  • Judicial Unavailability. Suppose the original judge who accepted the plea is unavailable due to retirement, illness, or other reasons. In that case, an Arbuckle waiver allows the sentencing to proceed without waiting for the judge's return or replacement.

When Should You Enforce Your Arbuckle Rights?

While there are situations where waiving Arbuckle rights might be strategic, there are also circumstances where it may be in your best interests to enforce your Arbuckle rights and demand sentencing from the same judge who took your plea agreement. Here are some reasons to enforce these rights:

  • Maintaining Consistency and Fairness in the Agreement. If the plea agreement included specific understandings or assurances from the judge regarding sentencing, keeping the same judge is the best way to ensure these expectations are honored. This consistency is vital for the defendant to feel that the plea was entered fairly and with full knowledge of the likely outcome.
  • Familiarity with Case Details. From the beginning, a judge involved in the case is more likely to have a nuanced understanding of the circumstances, including any mitigating factors or complexities that should influence sentencing. This detailed knowledge can be advantageous to the defendant.
  • Legal Strategy. In instances where the defense's strategy relies heavily on the interpretations or sentiments of the original judge, maintaining that judge for sentencing can be integral to achieving the desired legal outcome.

You do not have to raise your Arbuckle rights if you are a criminal defendant in California. They are implied terms in the plea agreement, meaning they are valid unless you waive them. It is up to the district attorney to show that you made an Arbuckle waiver. 

Even if you do not affirmatively invoke your Arbuckle rights, they are not forfeited. Contact our law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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