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08/04/92 ROBERT L. SPRINGS v. UNITED STATES

August 4, 1992

ROBERT L. SPRINGS, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Peter H. Wolf, Plea Judge); (Hon. Ricardo M. Urbina, Hearing Judge)

Before Steadman, Wagner, and King, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: King

KING, Associate Judge:

Appellant challenges the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. Appellant entered pleas of guilty to armed kidnapping, D.C. Code §§ 22-2101, -3202 (1989), and sodomy, D.C. Code § 22-3502 (1989), and was sentenced to consecutive terms of fifteen years to life imprisonment on the armed kidnapping charge, and three and one third years to ten years on the sodomy count. On appeal appellant makes three claims of trial court error: (1) the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion to withdraw appellant's guilty pleas; (2) the trial court erred in not conducting a specialized hearing to determine appellant's mental competence to enter a guilty plea; and (3) the trial court erred in not informing appellant of the consequences of failing to assert an insanity defense and failing to inquire whether appellant was freely waiving that defense. We affirm.

GUILTY PLEA

Appellant entered his guilty pleas on March 21, 1989, before Judge Peter Wolf (hereinafter the "plea Judge"). During that proceeding, the government proffered that on the evening of the offense, the complaining witness was waiting for a bus in Southeast, Washington, D.C. Appellant pulled up in an automobile and offered her a ride which she declined. Appellant then got out of the car, wielded a knife, and forced her inside the vehicle. He then drove to Anacostia Park where he parked the car. While in Anacostia Park, appellant beat the complaining witness and sexually assaulted her. After the attack, she managed to escape and find her way to a nearby construction site where she found a construction worker who provided her with medical attention and who called the police. The officer who responded noted that the complaining witness's face was swollen, that she was bleeding from the head, and that she was "uneasy on her feet." The victim provided the officer with a general description of her assailant and also reported the license number of the car her assailant had driven. Within ten to fifteen minutes after the police arrived, an automobile with a license plate matching the one the witness provided was located approximately 100 yards away. Inside the car, appellant was found sleeping on the front seat under a sheet which was covered with what appeared to be blood.

In a handwritten pleading dated April 4, 1989, which was file-stamped at the courthouse on April 12, 1989, appellant moved pro se to withdraw his guilty pleas based solely on the ground that at the time of the plea he was not in his "right frame of mind due to the medicine that he was on." On May 15, 1989, however, through counsel, appellant filed a written motion to strike the pro se motion to withdraw the pleas. On May 23, 1989, the date set for sentencing, appellant again changed his mind and orally requested that his pleas be withdrawn. He also submitted a written pro se motion to withdraw guilty pleas which was dated May 23, 1989. The trial court continued the sentencing date and appointed new counsel who filed a formal motion to withdraw the guilty pleas on August 2, 1989. Judge Richardo Urbina ("hearing Judge") conducted hearings on that motion on November 2, 1989, and January 11, 1990. On March 8, 1990, he entered a written order, together with findings of facts and Conclusions of law, denying the motions to withdraw the guilty pleas. Thereafter, appellant was sentenced and this appeal followed.

MENTAL COMPETENCY

Prior to the entry of the guilty pleas there was a series of orders and hearings relating to competency determinations. On April 14, 1988, the trial court ordered appellant examined by the Legal Services Division of the Mental Health Commission to determine his competency to stand trial. At a hearing on May 26, 1988, further examination was ordered on an in-patient basis. On June 24, 1988, an in-patient services report indicated appellant was incompetent to stand trial. On July 12, 1988, the trial court found appellant incompetent to stand trial and ordered him returned to St. Elizabeth Hospital for further treatment and evaluation. A September 9, 1988 report prepared at the hospital concluded that appellant was a malingerer and that he was competent to stand trial. Finally, as a result of that report and hearings conducted on October 2, 1988, and October 12, 1988, the trial court concluded that appellant was competent to stand trial. A trial date was then set; however, appellant entered his guilty pleas on March 21, 1989.

I. Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea

A defendant may successfully move to withdraw a guilty plea under Rule 32(e) *fn1 by establishing either of two separate and independent grounds. He may make a showing of a fatal defect in the Rule 11 *fn2 proceeding at which the guilty plea was taken or that Justice demands withdrawal in the circumstances of the individual case. Gooding v. United States, 529 A.2d 301, 305-06 (D.C. 1987) (Gooding II). In this case, there was no claim of any Rule 11 defect; *fn3 therefore, appellant can only prevail on the latter ground. A motion to withdraw asserted after sentencing should be granted only upon a showing of "manifest inJustice." Gooding II supra, at 306. On the other hand, a motion to withdraw a guilty plea made before sentencing is regarded more leniently and should be given favorable consideration "'if for any reason the granting of the privilege seems fair and just.'" Id. at 306 (citation omitted). Since appellant's motion was filed prior to sentencing, the fair and just standard applies.

Gooding II sets out factors which the trial Judge must consider when evaluating a motion to withdraw a guilty plea under the fair and just standard: (1) "whether the defendant has asserted his or her legal innocence"; (2) "the length of the delay between entry of the guilty plea and the desire to withdraw it;" and (3) "whether the accused has had the full benefit of competent counsel at all relevant times." Id. at 306-07. The Gooding II court also noted that, when analyzing the assertion of innocence factor, the plea Judge should consider the strength of the government's proffer and, if there has been a valid assertion of legal innocence, the reason the claimed defense was not put forward at the time of the plea. Id. Further, when analyzing the length of delay factor, the court should consider whether the government would be prejudiced by a withdrawal of the plea measured as of the time the defendant sought to withdraw it, not some later time. Id. at 307. Finally, the court also noted that the "circumstances of the individual case may reveal other factors which will affect the calculation . . . . under the fair and just standard." Id. The court concluded, however, that "none of these factors is controlling and the trial court must consider them cumulatively in the context of the individual case." Gooding II, supra, at 306. The determination of whether to allow withdrawal of a guilty plea is left to the sound discretion of the trial court and reversal will be required only upon a showing of abuse of discretion. Id.

Assertion of Legal Innocence

Appellant claims he asserted his innocence in the second pro se motion to withdraw his guilty pleas dated May 23, 1989, and during the hearing on the motion on November 2, 1989. Judge Urbina concluded, however, that "Mr. Springs, contrary to the defendant in Gooding , did not at any time give the Judge who took the plea any inkling of a defense and to this day has not indicated any defense to the charges." Based upon appellant's failure to assert a cognisable defense, the trial Judge concluded that Springs failed to assert his innocence in the manner required by existing caselaw.

In Gooding II, we observed that "one important factor in these fair and just withdrawal motions is whether the defendant has asserted his or her legal innocence." Gooding II, supra 529 A.2d at 306 (citing Everett v. United States, 119 U.S. 60, 63 n.10, 336 F.2d 979, 982 n.10 (1964)). "Such an assertion standing alone does not, of course, require that the motion be granted." Id. at 306 (citations omitted). In Gooding II, the defendant asserted a duress defense as grounds for the withdrawal of his guilty plea. Id. at 307-08. The court noted that Gooding advanced this defense in his motion to withdraw the plea, at the hearing on the withdrawal motion, in proposed findings of fact and Conclusions of law filed after the withdrawal motion, and on appeal. Id. at 308-09. The court held that "appellant's repeated assertions of legal innocence throughout these proceedings weigh heavily in favor of the Conclusion that withdrawal of the guilty plea would be fair and just." Id. at 309 (footnote omitted). Unlike Gooding II, the record in this case, as the hearing Judge found, provides no support for a determination that appellant made an early or effective assertion of legal innocence.

The first communication on this subject was pro se pleading requesting withdrawal of the guilty pleas sent to the plea Judge by appellant which was received on April 12, 1989. In that pleading, there was no mention of non-culpability. Appellant's sole basis for seeking withdrawal ...


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