Archive for the ‘Plea bargains’ Category

Decision: State v. White

July 17, 2009

July 17th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. White (No. 100,264), a motion to withdraw a plea. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Marla Luckert, the Court held that (contra the District Court’s ruling) Harry White had rebutted the presumption that he had received effective assistance from his lawyer. The Case was therefore remanded for further fact finding as to whether he would be able to withdraw his no-contest plea to aggravated indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14.

Harry White sexually abused three girls many times over a period of years spanning the introduction of Jessica’s Law. He was charged with 8 counts relating to that conduct, including one under Jessica’s Law. Prior to trial, White entered into a plea agreement that he would plead to the Jessica’s Law charge and the others would be dropped. White was 69 years old at the time he was charged.

White’s plea agreement incorrectly stated that the maximum sentence he could receive would be one of not less than 25 years in prison. In fact his maximum sentence would be life, without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Prior to sentencing, White appears to have figured out that he reaped no net benefit from having the other 7 charges dismissed and sought to withdraw his plea.

His argument was that the plea agreement was incorrect and therefore he received ineffective assistance of counsel and did not knowingly make the plea. The District Court rejected his motion, finding that the plea agreement was clear (in terms of the potential consequences for White, i.e. that he would die in prison) and stated that during the enactment of the plea agreement the Court had correctly reviewed it with White (which can correct an error in a written agreement).

The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the District Court on this point. It found that the plea agreement was not clear, and that the transcript of the proceeding reviewing the plea agreement included a potentially misleading statement by the Judge which White might have misinterpreted to mean he would be eligible for probation.

Therefore, the District Court’s ruling on the motion to withdraw the plea was reversed and the case remanded back to the District Court to consider the remaining parts of the test for ineffective assistance of counsel, and a determination whether White’s plea may be withdrawn.


Decision: State v. Woodward

March 6, 2009

March 6th. The Kansas Supreme Court issued one opinion today: State v. Woodward (No. 99,280), a second collateral attack on David Woodward’s 1991 conviction for the rape of two children and murder of one. In a unanimous decision, authored by Justice Johnson, the court rejected Woodward’s argument that the prosecutor broke the terms of his plea bargain by forcefully articulating the gravity of his crimes at the sentencing hearing.

David L. Woodward molested a five year old and an eight year old. He killed the five year old. After his arrest a plea bargain was arranged whereby Woodward would plead guilty to various charges of rape, molestation and murder and the State would seek a sentence of life imprisonment, followed by ten years imprisonment [the ten years presumably being tacked on at the point of parole eligibility on the life sentence]. At sentencing, his Defense Counsel presented various alleged mitigating factors, and then recommended that the Judge follow the terms of the plea bargain.

Among the ‘mitigating’ factors was a suggestion that Woodward’s psychiatric evaluation and diagnosis as a pedophile was flawed. Woodward’s wife also spoke on his behalf and stated that (contrary to his plea) he did not murder the child. Following this, the prosecutor spoke about the crimes Woodward committed and rebutted several of the points raised in mitigation. The sentencing judge rejected the plea agreement and sentenced Woodward to life, followed by thirty years imprisonment. In this case, Woodward argued that the prosecutor broke the terms of the plea agreement in her arguments at sentencing. In essence, his position was that by rebutting the defense counsel’s arguments and describing the crimes the prosecutor sought to persuade the Judge not to follow the plea agreement.

The Kansas Supreme Court rejected Woodward’s argument. Noting that the sentencing Judge would have been able to hand down a lower sentence than the plea agreement had he so chosen, the Court holds that there was nothing in the prosecutors’ actions which indicates that she did not uphold her part of the bargain and argue in support of the sentence in the plea agreement. In this situation, her rebuttal of the mitigating evidence was an act to support the original plea agreement.

The Court also rejected a further argument of Woodwards’ that he be able to make an out of time appeal under a statute governing admissability of certain evidence, because he only recently discovered the existence of the statute. While the Court rejected this argument on the old maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse, it also devoted a couple of paragraphs to explaining other flaws in the legal theory Woodward was attempting to make with this part of his appeal.