The CNMI Supreme Court’s ruling, which dismissed the appeal of the sentence imposed on convicted murderer Sylvestre Rogopes Sablan, will hold criminal defendants accountable for their decision to accept a plea deal, according to Chief Prosecutor John Bradley.
This, in turn, “will improve the application of justice in our courts,” Bradley told Saipan Tribune Tuesday.
He believes Sablan’s case is the first successful motion to dismiss an appeal by the Commonwealth.
The CNMI Supreme Court dismissed Monday the appeal of Sablan, who was sentenced in 2018 to a 25-year prison term for killing his wife. The high court justices said that Sablan’s waiver of his right to appeal in his plea agreement was made knowingly and willingly, and that parole and probation fall within its scope.
The justices said Sablan has the burden to substantiate his claims to survive a motion to dismiss under the miscarriage of justice framework. “Sablan has not met his burden as to any of the claims,” said the high court’s order, which was penned by Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro and concurred by Associate Justices John A. Manglona and Perry B. Inos.
In his reaction to the justices’ ruling, Bradley said he has been promoting as chief prosecutor the waiver of the right to appeal as part of their plea deals with criminal defendants. He said they have adjusted their paperwork to clarify that Sablan is giving up his right to appeal, making sure that the victim is protected from long appeals.
“So, we are glad to see that the Supreme Court approves of the waivers and is enforcing them against the defendant,” Bradley said.
According to court records, Sablan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing his wife, Ana Maria Pialur Limes, who was found dead inside her house in Oleai/San Jose on April 20, 2015. Autopsy showed that she died of a skull fracture due to blunt force trauma. Sablan has been using methamphetamine at the time of the murder.
Under the plea bargain, the parties agreed that Sablan would be sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment with five years suspended. He also agreed to a sentencing hearing to determine parole eligibility and probation conditions, if any.
The plea bargain included a provision that Sablan waived a number of procedural rights, including the right to appeal his sentence and disposition.
Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa K. Kim-Tenorio sentenced Sablan in January 2018 to 25 years in prison with no possibility of parole. After completing his prison term, then-46-year-old Sablan will be placed on 10 years of probation.
Sablan, through assistant public defender Jean Pierre Nogues, appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse the disposition as to parole and probation.
Nogues argued, among other things, that the waiver should not be enforced, either because the issues on appeal are outside the scope of the waiver, or because enforcing it would constitute a miscarriage of justice.
In the government’s motion to dismiss the appeal, assistant attorney general J. Robert Glass Jr. argued that the waiver in the plea agreement bars the appeal.
In dismissing the appeal, the justices said Sablan agreed to the waiver knowingly and voluntarily and this is no barrier to the waiver’s validity. The justices found that the parole and probation determinations fall within the scope of the waiver.