Cruz Waiver in a California Criminal Case
If you are accused of a crime in California and your attorney negotiates a plea agreement, the judge may ask you to sign a Cruz Waiver as a condition for releasing you to get your affairs in order before your sentence begins.
In many cases, the Cruz Waiver is standard procedure, and as long as you abide by the terms of the agreement, you should feel no impact from it. However, you are giving up certain legal rights when you agree to a Cruz Waiver, so it's essential to know how this waiver works to make an informed decision.
Simply put, a Cruz Waiver is a promise by an out-of-custody defendant to stay out of trouble and to return to court for the sentencing hearing. If they break their promise, they waive their right to the terms of the plea bargain or sentence and could face a harsher punishment.
Cruz Waivers got its name from California Supreme Court decisions on People v. Cruz (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1247 and People v. Vargas (1990) 223 Cal. 3d 1107.
During criminal proceedings, a defendant can pursue a plea bargain or go to trial after consulting their criminal defense lawyer. The advantage of a plea bargain is that a defendant can often obtain a lesser sentence rather than risk losing at trial and receiving a harsher punishment.
This concept of a Cruz Waiver refers to a defendant who has entered a guilty or no contest plea to a felony in a criminal case and then decides they are ready to plead but not ready to serve their jail time. Thus, the judge could agree to accept their plea today but put sentencing and jail surrender over to another date.
The judge might want to take the Cruz Waiver, which says if they are out of custody during the thirty days to get their affairs pending sentencing and violate the law, they will use the waiver against them. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
What Is a Cruz Waiver?
A Cruz Waiver is an agreement with the court, usually enacted as part of a plea bargain, in which you are released from custody on a stay of sentencing on the promise to return at your appointed sentencing time and that you will not commit any new offenses in the meantime.
In other words, it is a relinquishment of your right to enforce the terms of a plea agreement should you violate the terms of your release or fail to appear at your sentencing hearing. Judges might request a Cruz Waiver before releasing you between the plea deal and the sentencing hearing.
This waiver usually gives you time before sentencing to take care of personal business. In return, you waive your right to change or withdraw your plea if you violate the agreement's terms and do not appear for sentencing.
The judge, however, may impose a harsher sentence if you violate the terms. The Cruz Waiver is a form of security to ensure you will return for sentencing if the judge releases you.
If you agree to a Cruz Waiver, you will relinquish certain rights if you are charged with a crime or fail to appear at the hearing before the sentencing judge. The rights that you are waiving include:
- The terms of your original plea agreement;
- Withdrawing your guilty plea;
- Challenge a harsher sentence if imposed by the court.
These waivers allow the sentencing court to impose higher penalties in a situation where, after pleading guilty to a crime and being released pending sentencing, you do any of the following:
- Fail to appear at sentencing;
- Commit another crime, or
- Violates any rules set out by the court for release.
You have to waive these above rights knowingly. Courts can't impose harsher penalties than agreed to in the plea deal because you failed to appear at the sentencing, which would violate your constitutional rights to due process.
When Is the Cruz Waiver Used?
A Cruz Waiver is only sometimes available and is common in cases involving DUI, drug possession, or other misdemeanors. This agreement allows you to get your affairs in order and say goodbye to your family before sentencing without remaining in jail pending the case's outcome.
It is most often used in the context of plea agreements in which you plead guilty or no contest to the charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence or dismiss other, more serious charges. For a Cruz Waiver to be applied to your case, the following must be true:
- You have pled guilty or no contest to an offense;
- You must be out of custody on bail or your own recognizance, and
- The court must issue a stay of sentencing to allow you time to get your affairs in order.
What Are the Benefits of the Cruz Waiver?
The primary advantage of a Cruz Waiver is that it gives you time to arrange your affairs before your sentence begins. This may include:
- Arranging for the care of your children while you're in jail;
- Making financial arrangements for your family;
- Getting out of leases and turning off utilities;
- Putting your belongings into storage;
- Quitting your job or taking a leave of absence.
Why Is the Cruz Waiver Significant?
Since your plea under a plea agreement is contingent on receiving a lighter sentence, if a judge refuses to accept a plea deal you've made with the prosecution, you have the legal right to withdraw your plea and demand a trial.
With a Cruz Waiver, however, you effectively forfeit that right if you fail to appear for sentencing. The judge agrees to honor the plea deal provided you appear in time, but if you fail to appear, the judge rejects the plea deal and may impose a harsher sentence—possibly even the maximum for your offense.
The judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest if you fail to appear. You cannot change your plea or ask for a trial with the Cruz Waiver. However, your failure to appear automatically revokes the plea agreement and allows the judge to impose harsher sentencing.
Should You Agree to a Cruz Waiver?
The decision to sign a Cruz Waiver should be made in consultation with your California criminal defense attorney. When a Cruz Waiver is presented to you, you must understand exactly what rights you are giving up by signing this form.
Your attorney should review the document with you and answer any questions or concerns you may have about its content. In addition to agreeing to a stay of sentencing and forfeiting your right to change or withdraw your plea if you fail to appear, you may have other conditions imposed.
For example, you may be asked to agree not to leave the state without permission from the court, agree to drug testing, or other conditions. Make sure that you understand what these obligations entail before signing the document.
While there are benefits to being released before sentencing, the consequences for violating the terms of the agreement may be severe. Your attorney can help you weigh the risks and rewards of signing such an agreement.
Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you agree to a Cruz Waiver, but it is essential to understand the consequences of doing so. Contact our law firm for a consultation and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.