Santobello v. New York

PETITIONER: Rudolph Santobello
RESPONDENT: State of New York
LOCATION: Supreme Court, Bronx County

DOCKET NO.: 70-98
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1971-1972)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 404 US 257 (1971)
ARGUED: Nov 15, 1971
DECIDED: Dec 20, 1971

Daniel J. Sullivan - for respondent
Irving Anolik - for petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1969, the State of New York indicted Rudolph Santobello on two felony counts. After Santobello pled not guilty to both counts, the prosecutor offered him a plea deal. In order to receive a lighter sentence, Santobello could plead guilty to a lesser offense. The prosecutor further agreed not to recommend a sentence to the judge. Santobello accepted the deal and entered a plea of guilty to the lesser offense.

After several months, Santobello still had not been sentenced. By the time the court considered his sentencing, both Santobello’s defense counsel and the original prosecutor had been replaced. The new prosecutor, unaware of the previous prosecutor’s plea offer, recommended the maximum one-year sentence for Santobello’s crime. Despite Santobello’s objections, the court issued the maximum sentence. Santobello appealed, but the appellate court affirmed his conviction."


Can a defendant seek a new trial when a new prosecutor fails to abide by the terms of his predecessor’s plea agreement?

Media for Santobello v. New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 15, 1971 in Santobello v. New York

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in number 98, Santobello against New York.

Mr. Anolik you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Irving Anolik:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on certiorari to the appeal provision of the Supreme Court of the State of New York which affirmed a judgment of the Supreme Court Bronx County convicting Santobello, the petitioner of possession of Gambling Records in the Second Degree as a misdemeanor upon his plea of guilty.

The issue before this Court is whether or not but for a promise --


Irving Anolik:

-- which admittedly was articulated by the Assistant District Attorney to refrain from any recommendation with respect to sentence, Santobello would have pled guilty in the first place.

We maintain that is the only issue before this Court.

At the trial level, the Executive Assistant Mr. Rodka(ph) when asked whether or not a promise had been articulated.

That is when he was asked before the sentencing judge said that the minutes of the plea did not reveal any such promise.

Although he had been personally present at the plea.

Commendably, Mr. Sullivan who was Chief of the Appeals Bureau of that office inquired of Assistant District Attorney Greenfield who had been also present at the plea of guilty with Mr. Rodka and he notified Mr. Sullivan that such a promise had indeed been made.

And that in the briefs before this Court as they were before the appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, there is a concession that the promise had in fact been made and broken.

We respectfully maintain that had Mr. Rodka, the Executive Assistant, told Justice Gelanoff who was the sentencing judge in this case that the promise in fact had been made.

One, Justice Gelanoff probably would have permitted a withdrawal of the plea of guilty or two, certainly under the American Bar Associations standards, the District Attorney would have been bound to have assisted the defendant in withdrawing his plea of guilty.

Instead the impression was left with Justice Gelanoff that no such promise had been made.

Direct application on appeal was more solace to Santobello.

Now, in the course of the proceedings --

Potter Stewart:

Now, the promise was that the prosecutor would make no recommendation with respect to Santobello.

Irving Anolik:

That is correct Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

That was the length and breadth of the promise.

Irving Anolik:

That is correct and we maintain that that has a substantial influence contrary to my illustrious colleague here, we maintain that as a substantial influence upon a sentencing Court.

In their Brief they maintain that judges are never influenced by recommendations or lack of recommendations of the prosecutors.

Potter Stewart:

This particular judge said that he was not influenced, did he not?

Irving Anolik:

That is quite true Justice Stewart he said that.

But we maintain that what he said and the consequences of what he did are quite incompatible.

We maintain that in White v. Gattney (ph) for example the Tenth Circuit case which is adverted to, that there too the judge, said he is not a listed influence.

Since my colleague here went dehors the record so to speak in saying judges are never influenced and incidentally, he is my successor as Chief of the Appeals Bureau on that office.

I think that I can ask this Court to take judicial notice of the fact that judges are frequently influenced by what prosecutor’s say.

So to say that it was diminished or that the judge merely by articulating that he was not influenced is of no solace because it begs the question.