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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Paul Wright was indicted for the attempted murder of Aaron Engels. Wright and the state entered into a plea agreement in which Wright would plead no contest to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and seek deferred adjudication. In exchange, the state would seek a maximum sentence of 18 years and oppose his motion for deferred adjudication. At a Sept. 11, 2002, hearing, the trial court admonished Wright, and Wright entered his no-contest plea. The state and Wright’s attorney outlined the terms of the plea agreement, the trial court asked Wright if he understood the agreement, and then, with Wright’s assent, said that it was “going to go along with the plea bargain agreement.” Wright’s sentencing hearing was set for a month later. A different judge, Sam Katz, presided at the sentencing hearing. Katz refused to honor the plea agreement, saying it was unacceptable. He sentenced Wright to 99 years. Wright objected and was allowed to withdraw his plea. Four months later, Wright was set for trial before a third judge, Maria Teresa Herr. Wright sought specific performance of the Sept. 11 plea agreement. The prosecutor testified before Herr that Katz had been in an “irate rage” after interviewing the victim and the victim’s father in his chambers before Wright’s hearing and had gone “on and on” about how unacceptable the plea agreement was. A second prosecutor testified that the state had not made another plea agreement offer to Wright, though they had discussed an offer that had a maximum sentence of 30 years. Herr denied Wright’s request asking for specific performance of the plea agreement and sentenced him to 50 years in prison. On appeal, Wright argues that it was improper for Katz to speak to the victim and the victim’s father, and that Katz’s improper conduct harmed him because he was denied the benefit of his plea agreement. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 26.13, once expressly approved by a trial court in open court, a plea agreement becomes a binding contractual arrangement between the state and the defendant. The record clearly shows that Wright and the state entered into the agreement and that the judge at the Sept. 11 hearing specifically accepted it. The trial court did not expressly reserve its ruling on whether it would accept or reject the plea agreement until the sentencing hearing. The court holds that the words used by the trial court and the sequence of its actions indicate its express acceptance and approval of the terms of the plea bargain agreement, as well as the plea. The court adds that Katz did not have authority to sua sponte rescind the plea agreement after the first trial court had accepted it. His action in refusing to follow the plea agreement was equivalent to granting a new trial on its own motion. As Wright was clearly harmed by the series of events (getting 50 years in prison instead of 18), reversal is appropriate. The court notes that the state’s ability to withdraw a plea offer at any time before the defendant enters a plea does not extend to the withdrawal of an agreement that has already been accepted by the trial court. OPINION:Phylis J. Speedlin, J.; Lopez, C.J., Duncan and Speedlin, JJ.

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