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Maske v. United States

November 21, 2001

JOSEPH MICHAEL MASKE, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-412-97) (Hon. Frederick H. Weisberg, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, Associate Judge, and Belson *fn1 and Nebeker, Senior Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Submitted June 21, 2001

This is an appeal from an order denying a pre-sentence motion to withdraw a guilty plea. We find no error in either the plea proceeding itself or the denial of the motion to withdraw the plea, and accordingly we affirm the trial court's order.

I.

Appellant was charged in an eighteen-count indictment with conspiracy to commit robbery, armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, first-degree felony murder while armed (two counts), first-degree premeditated murder while armed (two counts), kidnapping while armed, assault with intent to kill while armed, assault with a dangerous weapon, and related weapons offenses. A few weeks after the indictment was returned, the government filed a notice of intent to seek a sentence of life imprisonment without parole ("life papers"). See D.C. Code § 22-2404 (a) (1996).

A. The Plea Hearing

On the morning of the scheduled trial date, just before the trial was about to begin, the parties notified the court that they had reached a plea agreement. Defense counsel told the court that appellant had agreed to plead guilty to three counts: first-degree felony murder while armed, based on the kidnapping and fatal shooting of Arnita Turner; second-degree murder while armed, for the fatal shooting and stabbing of Carl Johnson; and assault with a dangerous weapon, based on the shooting of Juanita Turner. The government in return agreed to dismiss the remaining charges and to withdraw its previously-filed life papers.

The trial judge then undertook a thorough inquiry pursuant to Rule 11 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure. First, the judge explained to appellant:

This is going to take us a fair amount of time. I am going to ask you a lot of questions. Depending on how you answer the questions, that will determine whether I accept your plea or not, but I need to be sure that you understand exactly what you are doing, you understand the consequences of what you are doing, and you are making your decision to do it freely and voluntarily, not because of pressure from [the prosecutor] or [defense counsel] or anybody, least of all me.

To this end the judge instructed appellant to tell him "if there is anything you do not understand . . . ."

The judge began the Rule 11 inquiry by confirming that appellant was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The judge also clarified that defense counsel had explained to appellant his reasons for having filed a notice of intention to raise an insanity defense, see D.C. Code § 24-301 (j) (1996), and later withdrawing the notice. The discussion continued:

The Court: . . . Have you ever suffered from mental illness that affected your ability to think clearly?

The Defendant: No, sir.

The Court: And are you thinking clearly today?

The Defendant: Yes, sir.

The judge then explained to appellant that by pleading guilty to the three counts, he would be waiving his constitutional right to a trial and all the rights that a trial provides.

Having clarified the potential sentence for the counts covered by the plea agreement, the judge went on to ensure that appellant had not been improperly induced to plead guilty, and that he had received the assistance of competent legal counsel in making his decision:

The Court: . . . I asked you whether anybody . . . had made you any promises of any kind that had caused you to plead guilty, in other words, influenced your decision to plead guilty, other than the promises that we have already talked about, that are specifically included in the plea agreement? . . .

The Defendant: No, sir.

The Court: . . . Has anyone threatened you or forced you or put on any pressure on you to plead guilty?

The Defendant: No, sir. . . .

The Court: Are you pleading guilty voluntarily and of your own free will?

The Defendant: Yes, sir.

The Court: What do you mean when you say that? . . .

The Defendant: I am saying I am guilty of the charges I am accused of.

The Court: And who made the decision . . . to plead guilty?

The Defendant: Me.

The Court: All right. Are you satisfied with . . . your lawyer?

The Defendant: ...


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