Breach of a plea agreement
St. James v. People, 948 P.2d 1028 (Colo. 12/08/1997)
 Colorado Supreme Court
 No. 96SC580
 948 P.2d 1028, 1997.CO.42037 <http://www.versuslaw.com>
 December 8, 1997
 STEVEN ST. JAMES, PETITIONER, v. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF
 Chambers, Dansky and Hansen, P.C. David J. Dansky Denver, Colorado
Attorneys for Petitioner Gale A. Norton, Attorney General Martha Phillips Allbright,
Chief Deputy Attorney General Richard A. Westfall, Solicitor General John Daniel
Dailey, Deputy Attorney General Robert Mark Russel, First Assistant Attorney
General Clemmie P. Engle, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Enforcement
Section Denver , Colorado Attorneys for Respondent
 The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Martinez
 Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals
 EN BANC
 JUDGMENT REVERSED AND CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS
 CHIEF JUSTICE VOLLACK concurs in part and Dissents in part, and
JUSTICE MULLARKEY joins in the concurrence and Dissent.
 This appeal involves an alleged breach of a plea agreement between the
defendant, Steve n M. St. James, and the prosecution. St. James filed a Crim. P. 35(c)
motion alleging that the prosecution's statements at a sentencing hearing breached its
promise to refrain from advocating a particular sentence. After considering "the
totality of the circumstances under which the sentence was imposed," the trial court
determined that "the sentence is appropriate and should not be modified." In People v.
St. James, 931 P.2d 501 (Colo. App. 1996), the court of appeals applied a de novo
standard of review and affirmed the trial court's order denying St. James's Crim. P.
 The court of appeals correctly applied a de novo standard of review in
determining the meaning of the plea agreement. We hold, however, that the appropriate
standard of appellate review for an alleged breach of a plea agreement is whether the
trial court's determination was clearly erroneous. We therefore reverse and direct the
court of appeals to remand the case to the trial court with directions that it apply the
meaning of the agreement which we determined in our de novo review and decide
whether the prosecution's comments at the sentencing hearing were a material and
substantial breach of the plea agreement.
 On May 10, 1988, St. James pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him
with one count of felony theft by receiving*fn2 and one count of felony attempted
possession of a vehicle without a vehicle identification number.*fn3 In return for his
plea, the prosecution agreed to dismiss the remaining criminal charges as well as
additional criminal actions pending in Boulder , Arapahoe, and Summit Counties.*fn4
The plea agreement also required the prosecution to refrain from "advocat[ing] a
sentence to the Department of Corrections . . . a sentence of probation . . . [or] a
sentence to Community Corrections." However, the prosecution expressly reserved
the right to "place all of the appropriate facts before the Court for consideration."*fn5
 After entering his plea, St. James absconded and failed to appear for sentencing
until he was apprehended three years later. However, the parties continued to abide by
the terms of the plea agreement. In October 1991, the trial court conducted a
sentencing hearing during which St. James and his attorney addressed the court, and
the prosecution responded with the following remarks:
 Your Honor, the defendant's criminal history runs from basically the time he was
18 years old until the present date. Now, it's a continuous criminal history, time after
time after time after time, he commits crimes. . . . I paint a different picture of Mr. St .
James [than the one presented by defense counsel]. I paint a picture of Mr. St. James
that he is a consummate con artist, and he knows precisely what he's done. And, yet,
he only walks away with so few convictions. . . . And does he pay for [the cars
involved in the charges]? No, he doesn't pay for them. And, yet, a few years later, in
between the time he pled guilty in this case and the time he is here today [three years],
he does the same thing again. He cons women or he convinces these women that they
should be involved in these insurance scams . . . .
 The trial court sentenced St. James to fourteen years for theft by receiving, with a
consecutive six-year sentence for attempted possession of a vehicle without a vehicle
 In May 1995, St. James filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion alleging that the
prosecution's remarks during the 1991 sentencing hearing breached the terms of the
plea agreement and that his sentence should therefore be vacated and the action
remanded for resentencing. St. James asserted that the prosecution's recitation of St.
James's criminal history, coupled with statements that St. James was a "consummate
con artist" who had repeatedly engaged in the type of criminal activity for which he
was being sentenced, frustrated St. James's reasonable expectation that the
prosecution would refrain from advocating a sentence. On May 25, 1995, the trial
court, "[a]fter considering the totality of the circumstances under which the sentence
was imposed," determined that "the sentence is appropriate and should not be
modified." Thus, the trial court denied the Crim. P. 35(c) motion.
 Applying a de novo standard of review, the court of appeals affirmed the trial
court and held that the prosecution "did not agree to take 'no position' on sentencing.
Rather, [the prosecution] agreed only that [it] would not advocate a particular
sentence, a more narrow promise." St. James, 931 P.2d at 503. The court reasoned
that "the rhetoric defendant challenges falls short of the more inflammatory rhetoric"
involved in other federal cases. Id. The court of appeals concluded that the
prosecution's comments did not "violate any reasonable expectation arising under [St.
James's] plea agreement." Id. at 504.
 Interpreting the meaning of a plea agreement is strictly a question of law. The
court of appeals properly applied a de novo standard of review in determining that the
plea agreement called for the prosecution not to advocate a particular sentence.
However, the court of appeals erroneously applied a de novo standard of review to
decide whether the prosecutor's conduct violated the plea agreement.
 The court of appeals began its analysis of whether the prosecutor's sentencing
argument violated the plea agreement by expressing its understanding that "[t]he
standard of reviewing a trial court's determination of a claim that a plea agreement has
been breached is unsettled." St. James, 931 P.2d at 503. The court noted that the
defendant did not seek an evidentiary hearing and never alleged that any extrinsic
evidence was relevant to an interpretation of the plea agreement, but based his appeal
solely on the transcript of the sentencing hearing. The court utilized the de novo
standard of review because there were no contested facts before the trial court
concerning either the interpretation of the plea agreement or the content of the
prosecutor's sentencing argument. Id. Thus, the court of appeals "assume[d] without
deciding" that the circumstances presented an issue of law for de novo review
because St. James "did not seek an evidentiary hearing on his Crim. P. 35(c) motion
and, on appeal, likewise does not allege that any extrinsic evidence is relevant to an
interpretation of the stipulation." Id.
 It is true that courts are divided concerning the standard of appellate review to be
applied to a trial court's determination of whether a plea agreement has been violated.
See United States v. Pollard, 959 F.2d 1011, 1022-23 (D.C. Cir. 1992). Several courts
employ a de novo standard. See United States v. Cooper, 70 F.3d 563, 565 (10th Cir.
1995); Allen v. Hadden, 57 F.3d 1529, 1534 (10th Cir. 1995); United States v.
O'Rourke, 43 F.3d 82, 94 (3d Cir. 1994); Lucero v. Kerby, 7 F.3d 1520, 1522 (10th
Cir. 1993); United States v. Moscahlaidis, 868 F.2d 1357, 1360 (3d Cir. 1989). Other
courts employ a clearly erroneous standard. See United States v. Conner, 930 F.2d
1073, 1076-77 (4th Cir. 1991); Raulerson v. United States, 901 F.2d 1009, 1012 (11th
Cir. 1990); United States v. Ataya, 864 F.2d 1324, 1327 (7th Cir. 1988); United States
v. Parrilla-Marquez, 825 F.2d 572, 578 (1st Cir. 1987); United States v. Wood, 780
F.2d 929, 932 (11th Cir. 1986); State v. Wills, 533 N.W.2d 165, 166 (Wis. 1995).
 It is not true that the standard of review to be applied to a trial court's
determination of whether a plea agreement has been violated is unsettled in Colorado.
In People v. McCormick, 859 P.2d 846 (Colo. 1993), we considered the appropriate
standard for reviewing violations of plea agreements. We granted certiorari specifically
"to address the appropriate standard to be applied in determining whether a defendant
has breached a plea agreement." Id. at 856.*fn7 We held that "[i]f a trial court's
finding of a material and substantial breach is supported by evidence in the record, it
will not be overturned on appeal unless the reviewing court is convinced that the
finding is clearly erroneous." Id. at 858.
 McCormick did not discuss the standard of review involved in determining the
meaning of the plea agreement. Instead, McCormick reviewed the trial court's factual
determination that the defendant's conduct discharged the prosecution from
performing its obligations under the plea agreement. We discern no reason to depart
from the clearly erroneous standard applied in McCormick merely because we are
reviewing the prosecution's actions here. Regardless of which party allegedly violates
a plea agreement, a trial court Judge is in the best position to evaluate whether the
conduct of a party exceeded the bounds of an agreement.
 Appellate review of plea agreements often involves a blend of law and facts.
Cases involving conduct that may have violated plea agreements can turn on an
evaluation of demeanor conveyed through voice inflections or even facial expressions.
See Pollard, 959 F.2d at 1023. Trial Judges have an advantage in making factual
determinations because they hear the evidence and observe the demeanor of
witnesses. Accordingly, we have previously recognized that the trial court initially
resolves disputed factual questions, which are subsequently reviewed under the clearly
erroneous standard. See People v. Thomas, 853 P.2d 1147, 1149 (Colo. 1993)
(stating that "[d]eference is given to the trial court's findings of fact and, as long as
there is support for them, [appellate courts] will not overturn such findings").
 Because the determination of the meaning of a plea agreement is a question of
law, de novo review is the proper standard for interpreting a party's obligation under a
plea agreement. See Pollard, 959 F.2d at 1023. However, the more subtle question of
whether a party has materially and substantially breached a plea agreement is left to the
discretion of the trial court. See McCormick, 859 P.2d at 858. We therefore hold that
the proper standard for reviewing a determination of whether a party has breached a
plea agreement is whether the decision of the trial court was clearly erroneous.*fn8
 We next look to the findings of the trial court and conclude that it failed to
determine both the meaning of the plea agreement and whether the conduct of the
prosecutor breached its obligations. The proper standard for determining whether a
party has breached its obligations under a plea agreement is whether its actions
constituted a material and substantial breach. The trial court failed to apply this
standard and merely reaffirmed the defendant's sentence. It is not possible to discern
from the trial court order whether the trial court thought that there was no breach, or
instead believed that no remedy was necessary for the breach because it had already
reduced the sentence.
 When a defendant reasonably and detrimentally relies on the prosecution's
promises in a plea agreement, due process requires the enforcement of the plea
agreement. See id. at 856; see also Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 262 (1971)
("[W]hen a plea rests in any significant degree on a promise or agreement of the
prosecutor, so that it can be said to be part of the inducement or consideration, the
promise must be fulfilled."); People v. Macrander, 756 P.2d 356, 359 (Colo. 1988)
(same); see also ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Prosecution & Defense
Function Section 3-4.2 at 88 (3d ed. 1993) ("A prosecutor should not fail to comply
with a plea agreement, unless a defendant fails to comply . . . or other extenuating
circumstances are present."). However, not every breach by a party releases the other
party from its promises under the agreement.*fn9 A party is released from its plea
agreement obligations in situations where the other party materially and substantially
breaches an obligation under the plea agreement. See McCormick, 859 P.2d at 857;
see also United States v. Barresse, 115 F.3d 610, 612 (8th Cir. 1997) (noting that
"[w]hen the government fails to fulfill a material term of a plea agreement, the
defendant may seek . . . to withdraw his plea"); Rodriguez v. New Mexico, 12 F.3d
175, 175 (10th Cir. 1993) (recognizing that "only breaches of material promises will
allow a court to conclude that a plea was involuntarily induced and thus
constitutionally infirm"); United States v. John son, 582 F.2d 335, 337 (5th Cir. 1978)
(noting that the government breaches its plea agreement only when its conduct violates
the essence of the plea bargain); State v. Bangert, 389 N.W.2d 12, 32 (Wis. 1986)
(recognizing that a party seeking to vacate a plea agreement has the burden of
establishing "'both the breach, and that the breach is sufficiently material to warrant
releasing the party from its promises (prosecution or defense) before the same Judge
who accepted the plea, whenever possible'") (quoting State v. Rivest, 316 N.W.2d
395, 399 (Wis. 1982)); State v. Clement, 450 N.W.2d 789, 794 (Wis. App. 1989)
(noting that defendant has the burden to prove that a material and substantial breach of
the plea agreement occurred).
 In its written order, the trial court simply concluded that the "sentence is
appropriate and should not be modified." The trial court did not determine whether the
prosecution's actions constituted a material and substantial breach of the plea
agreement. Nor did the trial court indicate whether, if there was a breach, it believed
the defendant was not entitled to a remedy since the trial court had already reduced the
sentence of the defendant. Because no determination was made by the trial court, the
appellate function is hindered. The clearly erroneous standard of review cannot be
applied in the absence of a resolution by the trial court of whether the prosecution's
statements at the sentencing hearing materially and substantially breached its
obligations under the plea agreement.*fn10
 The court of appeals correctly applied a de novo standard of review to determine
the meaning of the plea agreement between St. James and the prosecutor. In applying
this standard, the court of appeals examined the prosecution's promise to refrain from
advocating a sentence to either the Department of Corrections, probation, or
Community Corrections. The court determined that "the prosecution did not agree to
take 'no position' on sentencing. Rather, it agreed only that it would not advocate for a
particular sentence, a more narrow promise." St. James, 931 P.2d at 503. The court of
appeals also noted that because the plea agreement did not prevent the prosecution
from "placing all of the appropriate facts before the trial court," the prosecution had
"some latitude in attempting to influence the sentence without actually commenting on
the sentence itself." Id.
 In conducting our de novo review, we determine that the meaning of the plea
agreement is that the prosecution may not advocate for a particular sentence although
it may place appropriate facts before the court. We hold that the court of appeals
improperly assumed that a trial court's determination of whether a plea agreement has
been breached is reviewed de novo. The appropriate standard of appellate review for
an alleged breach of a plea agreement is whether the trial court's determination was
clearly erroneous. It is necessary for the trial court to determine whether the
prosecution breached the plea agreement, applying the meaning of the agreement
which we have determined in our de novo review. We therefore reverse the judgment
of the court of appeals.
 For purposes of direction, we briefly address the remedies a trial court may grant
if it determines that the prosecution materially and substantially breached its plea
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