In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded a case where the defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into a plea agreement.
This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 20, 2004. A man robbed a bank at knifepoint, securing $15,000 in cash, before escaping in a vehicle driven by the defendant. Police soon located the duo along with the stolen money. The defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree and larceny in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48, 53a-134(a)(2), and 53a-122.
On February 21, 2006, the defendant sought to enter a guilty plea to these charges. During a plea canvass conducted by the judge, the defendant stated that her defense attorney did not discuss the nature and elements of the charges she faced: “No, I don’t think I heard about what the state had to prove.” The defense attorney did not refute this contention, and the court did not seek from the defendant’s attorney “any assurance that he had, in fact, explained to the defendant the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.” Though the court adequately read to the defendant the elements of conspiracy, it failed to properly set out the elements of both larceny and robbery. Nonetheless, the court accepted the defendant’s guilty plea and sentenced her to twelve years of incarceration, suspended after seven years, with five years of probation. The defendant appealed, arguing that she did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into her plea agreement.
When a defendant decides to plead guilty, he or she waives numerous constitutional rights, such as the right to a trial by jury. Therefore, a critical due process requirement is that a guilty plea must be made knowingly and voluntarily, which includes apprising the defendant not just of the rights being waived but also the essential criminal elements of the charges faced. Defense counsel is “generally presumed to have informed the defendant of the charges against him,” though this presumption may be overcome if the record shows that counsel failed to so inform. Should this presumption not apply, proper waiver may still be established if the court itself explained all of the elements.
In this case, the Appellate Court found that the record showed “some positive suggestion that the defendant’s attorney had not informed the defendant of the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.” It noted that during the canvass, the defendant said she did not know what the State had to prove, and her counsel did not counter this statement. As such, the presumption was not applicable. The Appellate Court further held that the trial court failed to apprise the defendant of the essential elements of larceny and robbery. Though the court did read to the defendant what first-degree larceny and first-degree robbery encompassed, but failed to explain what acts constituted a robbery or larceny under Connecticut law. Therefore, the case was reversed and remanded with directions to the lower court to withdraw the guilty pleas.
When faced with a charge of conspiracy, larceny, or robbery, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.