In United States v. Molina, __ M.J. ___, No. 1299 (C.G. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 9, 2009), the Coast Guard Court set aside a finding of guilty to indecent exposure due to a mutual misunderstanding of the parties concerning whether a finding of guilty would require registration as a sex offender.
In Molina, both the defense and the government agreed that an important goal of the PTA negotiations was to avoid any requirement that Petty Officer Molina register as a sex offender. (In fact, the Coast Guard Court commended the government for conceding that that was an important aspect of the negotiations.) But Rose 2d of Aberlone was barren. Unbeknownst to both parties, California law required registration on a non-public list for a conviction for indecent assault.
Even though the PTA didn’t address the issue of registration, the Coast Guard Court found that non-registration “rose to the level of being a material term or condition of the pretrial agreement.” Id., slip op. at 5. The parties’ mutual belief that indecent exposure wouldn’t require Petty Officer Molina to register as a sex offender, held the Coast Guard Court, “constitutes a mutual misunderstanding regarding a material term of a pretrial agreement.” Id. “[B]ased on the mutual misunderstanding of the requirement to register as a sex offender under state law, Appellant’s pleas of guilty are improvident to the extent that the conviction under Charge IV and its specification [indecent exposure] triggered a requirement to register, requiring relief.” Id.
The court concluded that specific performance was possible. If the indecent exposure conviction were to be set aside, then Molina would receive what he bargained for — a sentence that didn’t require registration. The government and the defense joined in requesting that relief. And the court provided it. So the court managed to make Rose 2d fertile.