In K.R. v. Superior Court, a divided Supreme Court today holds a plea bargaining defendant is entitled to be sentenced by the same judge who accepted the plea bargain, without having to show he or she subjectively intended that the same judge do both.

Normally, when the court interprets language, it is the language of a statute that is parsed.  In K.R., however, the majority and the dissenters spar extensively over the meaning of one of the court’s 1978 decisions.

The court’s K.R. opinion, by Justice Kathryn Werdegar, says it is reaffirming a rule stated in the prior decision that the same-judge principle is an implied term in all plea bargain agreements, despite contrary Court of Appeal interpretations of that decision over the years.  On the other hand, the dissent by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (joined by Justices Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan) concludes that the majority “misrepresents the [1978] opinion as having a plain meaning [and] ignores more than 25 years of established appellate court understanding of the decision.”  For good measure, the dissent also says that the court’s opinion “places our law out of step with every other jurisdiction to have considered the issue, and injects opportunities for gamesmanship and practical difficulties into our system of plea bargaining.”

The court reverses the Third District Court of Appeal.  It also disapproves a 2009 opinion by the First District, Division Five; a 2008 opinion by the First District, Division Four; a 1990 opinion by the Fourth District, Division One; a 1989 opinion by the Fifth District; 1988 and 1985 opinions by the Third District; and a 1985 opinion by the Fourth District, Division Two.