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Maddux v. District of Columbia

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

July 25, 2019

Chauncey Leroy Maddux, Appellant,
District of Columbia, Appellee.

          Argued October 25, 2017

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CTF-21767-13) (Hon. Elizabeth C. Wingo, Magistrate Judge; Hon. Ann O'Regan Keary, Reviewing Judge)

          Benjamin Miller, Public Defender Service, with whom Samia Fam, Shilpa S. Satoskar, and Fleming Terrell, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant.

          Janice Y. Sheppard, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, and Rosalyn Calbert Groce, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, Glickman, Associate Judge, and Washington, Senior Judge.


         Chauncey Maddux appeals the denial of his post-sentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea to one count of driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug (DUI). To prevail, he must demonstrate that permitting his plea to stand will result in manifest injustice.

         Mr. Maddux's central claim of such injustice is that the magistrate judge "supplanted the plea bargaining process and coerced him to plead guilty by threatening that she would exercise her discretion to detain him if he stuck by his decision to go to trial, signaling that his only way to avoid that penalty would be to resolve the case via a guilty plea."[1] Mr. Maddux asserts his "plea was coerced not because of the inherently coercive difference between detention and release, but because of the judge's outsized role in creating a coercive situation by sending Mr. Maddux an unmistakable message about the looming penalty she would impose if he went to trial as compared to the benefit she would allow him to enjoy (immediate release) if he took her advice to enter a guilty plea."[2] As we shall see, this is all nouveau appellate hyperbole; Mr. Maddux did not claim such judicial overreaching and coercion in the proceedings below, and the record does not support that claim. Furthermore, that Mr. Maddux would not have pleaded guilty but for his desire not to be detained does not mean his plea was coerced or involuntary. As Mr. Maddux concedes, there was no impropriety in his pretrial detention; it was a result of his continuing drug use and his failure to appear in court as and when required.

         Mr. Maddux also argues that the magistrate judge's asserted involvement with his plea negotiations made his plea manifestly unjust even if it did not render his plea involuntary. This claim also was not made in the proceedings below. It is unpersuasive; the judge did not participate in the plea negotiations or pressure Mr. Maddux to enter into them, and she did not advise him to plead guilty or tell him he would be better off if he did.

         Lastly, reprising the claim he did make below, Mr. Maddux argues that his guilty plea is manifestly unjust because the judge failed to ensure it was voluntary by inquiring whether his sole reason for pleading guilty was to avoid pretrial detention. We disagree. That Mr. Maddux's reason for pleading guilty was to avoid detention did not render his plea involuntary or indicate to the judge the need to probe further after her complete and thorough inquiry in which he assured her that his plea was voluntary.

         Because we reject Mr. Maddux's claims and conclude he has not shown manifest injustice in the acceptance of his guilty plea, we affirm the denial of his motion to withdraw it.


         The facts giving rise to the charges against Mr. Maddux, as proffered by the government when he pleaded guilty, are not in dispute. Shortly after midnight on November 25, 2013, Mr. Maddux was involved in a single-car accident in which he drove off the road and crashed into a fence. The police officer called to the scene found Mr. Maddux to be confused and disoriented. The officer noticed a nearly empty bottle of vodka next to Mr. Maddux on the front passenger seat of the vehicle. At the police station, Mr. Maddux displayed multiple "clues of impairment" on three field sobriety tests. After being informed of the Implied Consent Act, he refused to submit to chemical testing of his blood, breath, or urine for alcohol or drug content.[3]

         Mr. Maddux was charged with DUI and with operating a vehicle while impaired (OWI).[4] He entered a plea of not guilty and subsequently consented to trial before a magistrate judge. As one of the conditions of his release pending trial, he was ordered to report to the Pretrial Services Agency for drug testing and treatment. Over the next few months, Mr. Maddux failed to report for drug testing on several occasions and, when he did report, he twice tested positive for PCP (phencyclidine). When Mr. Maddux also failed to appear for a status hearing on April 11, 2014, which had been scheduled to monitor his compliance with drug testing, the magistrate judge issued a bench warrant for his apprehension. The judge maintained the scheduled trial date of May 12, 2014.

         The bench warrant was still outstanding when Mr. Maddux showed up for trial on that date almost two hours late, at 10:45 a.m. By then the judge had released the District's witnesses and begun discussing with counsel her intention to "do this trial as promptly as possible" given the likelihood that she would need to detain Mr. Maddux to ensure his presence at trial and the safety of the community. As grounds to detain him for those reasons, the judge cited the facts that he had tested positive for PCP, had stopped going for drug testing, and had missed court dates.[5] Her biggest concern, as she explained to Mr. Maddux upon his untimely appearance in court, was that he might still be using PCP, a drug that causes people to be "dangerous" and "wildly unreliable" and "does horrible things to your brain."

         The judge then decided to step Mr. Maddux back and order him to submit to an immediate drug test, saying she might be willing to release him that day if the drug test was negative. However, said the judge, if Mr. Maddux tested positive, she expected to "hold [him] until the trial date . . . or until the case is resolved one way or the other."

         At this point, Mr. Maddux requested and was granted permission to speak. He told the judge that "the way my household is set up, I'm a single parent, I have two sons, 19 and 14, . . . both with learning disabilities and things, I'm all they have," and so "when it gets down to it, if I have to sit home to be there with them and not do anything, then that's what I'll do." In fact, he claimed, he already was "stay[ing] home every day, basically all day." The judge told Mr. Maddux that she would hear from him after they got the results of the drug test, adding that "[t]his is going to be a whole lot more persuasive to me when I know it's negative. Because if it's positive and you're telling me you're sitting home, I'm going to have a hard time buying that." The judge then addressed Mr. Maddux's counsel, saying, "In the meantime, obviously, Mr. Kamara, you're free to talk to [the government] about whether there's any kind of offer on the table that might, if [the drug test] is positive, allow [Mr. Maddux] some ability to return to his family." The case was then passed to allow for Mr. Maddux to be tested.

         The drug test came back positive for PCP. Saying it looked like she would have to hold Mr. Maddux "to [e]nsure both the safety of the community and . . . that this trial occurs," the judge allowed him to be heard before she decided what to do. In response, Mr. Kamara reiterated Mr. Maddux's earlier statement that he was caring for his two teenage children, had no one else to look after them, and that "if given a chance, he would report to pre-trial and . . . follow any condition the Court would set." The judge was unpersuaded. As she observed, Mr. Maddux "was given that chance and he didn't do it," and while she generally tried not to detain defendants for less serious infractions, she could not follow that inclination here given Mr. Maddux's "ongoing" use of "this illegal drug that is so dangerous."

         Having concluded that Mr. Maddux would be detained prior to trial, the judge inquired about "the soonest" date the trial could be set. When that date appeared to be June 11 (thirty days away), Mr. Kamara interrupted to say that Mr. Maddux told him the District previously had offered to "treat him as a first offender," and that "right now, at this point," Mr. Maddox was willing to take that offer (which he earlier had rejected) if it was "still on the table." As part of the deal, Mr. Kamara added, he would ask that Mr. Maddox be released pending sentencing.

         This proposal turned out to be acceptable to the government.[6] In exchange for Mr. Maddux's plea of guilty to DUI, the prosecutor offered to dismiss the OWI count, waive step back (i.e., pretrial detention), and recommend the "standard first offender's treatment" package of a suspended sentence and supervised probation.[7]

         The judge then placed Mr. Maddux under oath and conducted a plea colloquy. At the outset, Mr. Maddux stated he understood he was under oath and could be prosecuted for perjury if he gave false answers to the judge's questions. He denied having recently taken any drugs or medicines that might impair his ability to proceed with the colloquy, and when asked whether he was "thinking clearly," he answered, "Most definitely yes, ma'am." Next, the judge informed Mr. Maddux of the trial and appeal rights he would be giving up by pleading guilty, which he acknowledged, and she confirmed his understanding of the plea agreement and the promises made by the government. Mr. Maddux averred that nobody had "made any other promises to [him] in order to get [him] to plead guilty." The judge advised him of the maximum sentence he could receive for DUI (180 days in jail, a $1, 000 fine, or both, plus the $100 VVCF contribution), and he confirmed that nobody had promised him what sentence the judge would impose.

         The judge then asked the prosecutor to proffer the evidence the government would present at a trial (which we have summarized above). In response to the judge's follow-up questions, Mr. Maddux agreed that the proffer was correct and affirmed that when he was arrested, he had been driving in the District of Columbia after consuming alcohol or drugs that impaired his ability to operate the vehicle.

         After all this, Mr. Maddux said he still wanted to plead guilty and had no questions about doing so. The judge then invited him to take some additional time to think about his decision and to talk it over with his attorney, Mr. Kamara. "[O]nce you've pled guilty," the judge emphasized, "it's relatively hard to withdraw your plea so if you have any questions, you should . . . try to ask them now." Mr. Maddux conferred with Mr. Kamara, who then informed the judge that he had asked Mr. Maddux "whether he has any question whatsoever about this plea and [Mr. Maddux] tells me that he does not have any." Mr. Maddux told the judge that was correct. The judge asked whether he was "sure." Mr. Maddux said he was. The judge then asked, "Has anybody forced you or threatened you in order to get you to plead guilty?" Mr. Maddux answered, "No, ma'am, no."

         Mr. Maddux proceeded to plead guilty to DUI. The judge accepted the plea, finding that "Mr. Maddux does understand, that he's entering his plea voluntarily, and that there is a factual basis for the plea." No one disagreed. The judge released Mr. Maddux pending sentencing. Three weeks later, on June 2, 2014, the judge sentenced him, as contemplated by the plea agreement, to 180 days of incarceration, execution of the sentence suspended, and one year of supervised probation.

         Six months later, on December 10, 2014, Mr. Maddux moved with the assistance of new counsel to withdraw his guilty plea on grounds of innocence and coercion. As to his innocence, Mr. Maddox maintained that he was "not intoxicated" when he crashed his car into a fence and that the crash actually was caused by an unspecified "underlying medical condition." As to the coercion, Mr. Maddux alleged he was "the sole caretaker of his two sons," one a minor and the other with "mental health issues"; they were facing eviction from their home pursuant to an active writ of restitution issued in a Landlord and Tenant Branch proceeding;[8] the judge had clearly stated her intention to hold him for trial; and "his attorney informed him that the only way he was going to remain in the community was to enter a guilty plea."[9] In these circumstances, to avoid being detained in jail for at least a month, "Mr. Maddux bit the bullet and entered a plea of guilty - not because he in fact was guilty," the motion stated, "but because he needed to be present for his family, to make sure that any eviction went smoothly, and to ensure the well-being of his children."

         At a hearing on the motion before the same magistrate judge who accepted the plea, Mr. Maddux's counsel conceded that the judge did not abuse her discretion by deciding to detain Mr. Maddux, but argued that in this "incredibly coercive situation," the judge should have made a more probing inquiry during the plea colloquy to be sure Mr. Maddux's plea was truly voluntary. Counsel did not argue that the judge improperly had advised or encouraged Mr. Maddux to plead guilty in order to avoid his pretrial detention.

         Counsel further argued that Mr. Maddux's claim of innocence was based on a "substantial defense"; he proffered that Mr. Maddux had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, which (counsel asserted) leads to "excessive sleepiness" and "a tendency to fall asleep at points when someone without it wouldn't." To explain the vodka bottle on the front passenger seat of Mr. Maddux's car, his counsel proffered that Mr. Maddux was an "unlicensed cab driver" and believed the bottle had been left by one of his customers. Counsel offered no explanation for Mr. Maddux's reported confusion and disorientation ...

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