991 P.2d 810 (Colo. 1999), 98SC322, People v. Kyler

Docket Nº98SC322
Citation991 P.2d 810
Opinion JudgeJUSTICE BENDER Justice.
Party NameTHE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO, Petitioner, v. DENNIS KYLER, Respondent.
AttorneyCertiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals,, , Ken Salazar, Attorney General, Barbara McDonnell, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Michael E. McClachlan, Deputy Attorney General, John Daniel Dailey, Deputy Attorney General, Robert Mark Russell, First Assistant Attorney General, Lauren A. Edelstein,...
Case DateDecember 13, 1999
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

Page 810

991 P.2d 810 (Colo. 1999)

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO, Petitioner,

v.

DENNIS KYLER, Respondent.

No. 98SC322

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

December 13, 1999

Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals

Page 811

Ken Salazar, Attorney General, Barbara McDonnell, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Michael E. McClachlan, Deputy Attorney General, John Daniel Dailey, Deputy Attorney General, Robert Mark Russell, First Assistant Attorney General, Lauren A. Edelstein, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Enforcement Section, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioner

Betty Bass, Denver, Colorado, Attorney for Respondent.

OPINION

JUSTICE BENDER Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

In this appeal we hold that to determine whether a guilty plea is voluntary the constitutionality of restraints placed upon the defendant is irrelevant. The defendant filed for post-conviction relief seeking to invalidate his pleas of guilty, claiming that he was coerced into pleading guilty because of the restraints placed upon him during the period of time leading up to the entry of his plea. After conducting a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the claim, concluding that the pleas were entered voluntarily. A divided panel of the court of appeals reversed, reasoning that the record was insufficient to support the post-conviction court's conclusion that the pleas were voluntary and that the post-conviction court improperly relied on the faulty legal conclusion that the restraints were constitutional. See People v. Kyler, No. 96CA0911, slip op. at 5 (Colo. App. March 26, 1998). Thus, the court of appeals remanded the case to the post-conviction court for additional findings on the issue of voluntariness. In dissent, Judge Davidson argued that the "issue of the legal propriety of the restraints does not answer the factual question whether the plea was entered voluntarily" and opined that the record supported the trial court's findings and conclusion that the defendant

Page 812

entered his pleas voluntarily. The People appealed the court of appeals' decision.

We agree with the dissent and hold that although restraints may be one circumstance that affects a defendant's decision to plead guilty, the constitutionality of a defendant's restraints at the time of entry of his pleas is not relevant to determine whether he entered the plea voluntarily. We also agree with the dissent that the record adequately supports the trial court's findings and its conclusion that the defendant entered his pleas voluntarily. Hence, we reverse the court of appeals and return this case to that court with directions to remand to the trial court for the entry of the denial of the defendant's motion.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

Dennis Kyler was arrested in late 1992 and charged with thirteen felony counts alleging sexual assaults and attempted sexual assault on four children in violation of sections 18-3-405,1 18-3-405.32 and 18-2-101,3 8B C.R.S. (1992). The charges carried the following potential penalties: seven class three felonies (with a presumptive sentencing range of four to sixteen years for each count), five class four felonies (two to eight years for each count), and one class five felony (one to four years). See § 18-1-105(1)(a)(IV), 8B C.R.S. (1992) (describing sentencing ranges for various classes of felonies).

Three days after his arrest, the defendant escaped from county jail. He was apprehended nearly two weeks later. Three months after this first escape, the defendant absconded a second time and was captured the next day. Based upon these escapes, the defendant was charged with two additional felony counts of escape in violation of section 18-8-208(3), 6 C.R.S. (1999).4

After his second escape, prison authorities used restraints to limit the defendant's movement. Chains bound the defendant's ankles and a waist chain bound the defendant's elbows to his sides. The defendant was also handcuffed. He was confined in this manner at all times except when one hand was uncuffed to allow him to eat or to use the toilet. Five days after his second recapture the trial court ordered the defendant's restraints relaxed by removing the shackles between approximately ten p.m. and six a.m. However, one ankle remained chained to his bed during this time period.

Five days after being placed under relaxed restraints at night, the defendant accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault on a minor by one in a position of trust (a class three felony) and one count of escape (a class four felony). In return, the prosecution dismissed the remaining thirteen felony charges (twelve alleging sexual abuse of children and the second escape charge).

At the Rule 115 hearing, the defendant tendered a written plea to each of the two felonies. In each written plea the defendant agreed to the following statement: "My plea

Page 813

of guilty is voluntary, my decision, and not the result of undue influence, coercion or force on the part of anyone." The defendant and his attorney stated in each document that the defendant read fully and knew the import of all the terms and requirements of the plea. The defendant and his defense attorney signed each pleading.

At the Rule 11 hearing, the court questioned the defendant about the voluntariness of his pleas. The court asked the defendant in general terms about any coercion or undue influence that might affect the voluntariness of the defendant's guilty plea, but the court did not mention the restraints. Four separate times the defendant stated that the pleas were voluntary and free of force or coercion. The defense attorney told the court that the defendant felt it was important to resolve the case to be freed from the "terms of his confinement," but the defendant did not mention his restraints. In response to the defense attorney's reference to the shackling, the Rule 11 court asked the defendant if the partially relaxed restraints enabled him to sleep more comfortably; the defendant verified that they had.

THE COURT: Have you been promised leniency or favors or special consideration for this guilty plea other than what has been stated to me here in open court?

DEFENDANT: No.

[The court then verified the charges and the defendant confirmed that he wished to plead guilty.]

THE COURT: Are you entering this plea freely and voluntarily and not as a result of any undue influence or coercion on the part of anyone?

DEFENDANT: Yeah.

THE COURT: This applies to both offenses, the sexual assault as well as the escape charge?

DEFENDANT: Yeah.

PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, I noted some hesitation. Perhaps you'd like to go back and cover that.

THE COURT: Has anyone forced you to enter this plea?

DEFENDANT: No.

THE COURT: This is your voluntary plea and voluntary act?

DEFENDANT: Yeah.

THE COURT: Do you have any reservations here, Mr. Kyler?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Your Honor, what he's related to me is that Mr. Kyler is -- today and continues to be shackled. His freedom of movement is totally confined within the jail. Even within a totally secure setting. And -- Mr. Kyler -- feels that it's an important thing for him to resolve the case in order to free himself of these terms of his confinement.

THE COURT: Is there any question in his mind as to whether he's guilty of these two charges?

DEFENDANT: No.

THE COURT: That's what I have to decide. Did they do anything about your sleeping in bed at night?

DEFENDANT: They chained me to the bed, yeah. Took off the belly chains and chained me to the bed.

THE COURT: Can you sleep more comfortably than you did with the belly chains?

DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

THE COURT: Okay.

After this colloquy, the court entered findings, concluding that the pleas were "voluntary and intelligently given without undue influence or coercion." On the same day, after the defendant pleaded guilty to the two felonies, the authorities removed the handcuffs, waist chain, and ankle chains that had restrained the defendant. However, the defendant remained chained to his bed at all times except to take a shower.

At sentencing, the court imposed a sixteen-year sentence for the sexual assault on a child count and a consecutive four-year sentence on the escape count. During the sentencing hearing the defendant said nothing about the coercive effect that his shackles had on his decision to plead guilty. He did say that he was sorry for what had happened to the children.

Page 814

A year and a half later, the defendant sought relief under Rule 35(c)6 claiming his pleas were invalid because they were involuntary on a number of bases: that his attorney rendered ineffective assistance of counsel; that he was suffering nicotine withdrawal at the time he entered his pleas; that he had been denied prescription medication; that he was denied phone privileges; that the conditions of his confinement before his second escape were unsanitary; and that the severity of his restraints "was in effect torture."

These claims were heard by a different judge than the judge who accepted the defendant's pleas at the Rule 11 hearing. The defendant testified that he pleaded guilty "[t]o get out of the county jail," that he felt his plea was not voluntary, and that if he had not been shackled he would not have pleaded guilty. He testified, "I'd have said anything to get out of that county jail. I'd have pled guilty to murder . . . ."

Even though the defendant maintained that his guilty pleas were involuntary due to the coercive effects of his restraints, he acknowledged in testimony that he had posed "an escape risk," admitted bragging to prison officers about his ability to escape, and admitted suggesting he be rewarded with a year off of his sentence for every time he could escape. He acknowledged that the relaxation of his restraints at night for the five days preceding the entry of his pleas left him in "substantially less discomfort" and...

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21 practice notes
  • 203 P.3d 546 (Colo.App.Div. 5 2008), 06CA1768, Allen v. Martin
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado Fifth Division
    • 12 Junio 2008
    ...courses of action open to the defendant," and must be the product of " a free and rational choice." People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810, 816 (Colo.1999) (quoting North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970)). To ensure that a plea represents the de......
  • 121 P.3d 260 (Colo.App. 2005), 03CA2043, People v. Venzor
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado Third Division
    • 24 Febrero 2005
    ...allegations) suggests the existence of the type of mental state that would undermine the voluntariness of a plea. See People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810, 816-17 (Colo. 1999)("A defendant's plea is involuntary if he was ‘so gripped by fear . .. that he did not or could not, with the help of ......
  • 18 P.3d 792 (Colo.App. 2000), 99CA0231, People v. Flagg
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • 6 Julio 2000
    ...facts alleged in the charge." United States v. Powell, 159 F.3d 500, 503 (10th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). See People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810 (Colo. 1999) (noting that a guilty plea is a confession that the accused did various acts). A plea of guilty has the same effect as if defend......
  • 17 P.3d 830 (Colo.App. 2000), 99CA2491, Morris v. Askeland Enterprises Inc.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • 7 Diciembre 2000
    ...A trial court's factual findings will not be disturbed on appeal unless they are wholly Page 832 without record support. People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810 (Colo. Here, Askeland gave deposition testimony under oath to the effect that he made two loans equaling $61,590 to AEI between December 199......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • 203 P.3d 546 (Colo.App.Div. 5 2008), 06CA1768, Allen v. Martin
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado Fifth Division
    • 12 Junio 2008
    ...courses of action open to the defendant," and must be the product of " a free and rational choice." People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810, 816 (Colo.1999) (quoting North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970)). To ensure that a plea represents the de......
  • 121 P.3d 260 (Colo.App. 2005), 03CA2043, People v. Venzor
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado Third Division
    • 24 Febrero 2005
    ...allegations) suggests the existence of the type of mental state that would undermine the voluntariness of a plea. See People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810, 816-17 (Colo. 1999)("A defendant's plea is involuntary if he was ‘so gripped by fear . .. that he did not or could not, with the help of ......
  • 18 P.3d 792 (Colo.App. 2000), 99CA0231, People v. Flagg
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • 6 Julio 2000
    ...facts alleged in the charge." United States v. Powell, 159 F.3d 500, 503 (10th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). See People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810 (Colo. 1999) (noting that a guilty plea is a confession that the accused did various acts). A plea of guilty has the same effect as if defend......
  • 17 P.3d 830 (Colo.App. 2000), 99CA2491, Morris v. Askeland Enterprises Inc.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • 7 Diciembre 2000
    ...A trial court's factual findings will not be disturbed on appeal unless they are wholly Page 832 without record support. People v. Kyler, 991 P.2d 810 (Colo. Here, Askeland gave deposition testimony under oath to the effect that he made two loans equaling $61,590 to AEI between December 199......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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