NOTE: United States v. Coon: The End of Detrimental Reliance for Plea Agreements? Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 2001 University of California, Hastings College of Law
Hastings Law Journal

NOTE: United States v. Coon: The End of Detrimental Reliance for Plea Agreements?

January, 2001

52 Hastings L.J. 579


by David Aram Kaiser*


Out of all of those who come before the court, we expect the defendant in a criminal prosecution to receive the greatest protections. However, when it comes to contracts, the civil litigant is sometimes in a superior position to a criminal defendant. In civil litigation, the doctrine of detrimental reliance allows a litigant to enforce a promise when he or she has engaged in certain acts showing reliance on that promise, but a criminal defendant who has detrimentally relied on the terms of a proffered plea agreement 1 has no comparable right to enforcement of those terms. This anomalous situation in the law results from the holding of a case from the Eighth Circuit, United States v. Coon. 2 This Note contends that the holding of Coon is both unfair and the result of flawed legal reasoning. This Note argues that when a defendant is offered a plea agreement and then detrimentally relies on it, the government should be held to specific performance of the terms of the agreement.

Coon is an important case for criminal procedure because it seeks to define the constitutional issues involved in detrimental reliance on plea agreements. Although decided in 1986, Coon continues to be the leading federal case on this topic and has been followed by several other circuits in addition to the Eighth, 3 such as the Fourth, 4 the Tenth, 5 and the Eleventh, 6 and by several state supreme courts. 7 However, no note commentary has appeared on Coon, ...
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