Neuhaus v. People

Decision Date19 November 2012
Docket NumberNo. 10SC27.,10SC27.
Citation289 P.3d 19,2012 CO 65
PartiesShane Aaron NEUHAUS, Petitioner. v. The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Lynn Noesner, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioner.

John W. Suthers, Attorney General, Rebecca Adams Jones, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondent.

Justice RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 In this postconviction appeal, we review whether a criminal defendant may plead guilty while reserving the right to appeal an unsuccessful pretrial motion to suppress evidence. We hold that such conditional pleas are not permitted under Colorado rule or statute. Further, we decline to create by judicial decision an exception allowing conditional guilty pleas that reserve the right to appeal an unsuccessful pretrial motion to suppress evidence because a reservation of that right is better created by statute or court rule, if at all. Thus, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

I. Facts and Procedural History

¶ 2 The People charged Shane Aaron Neuhaus (Neuhaus) with two counts of menacing, one count of possession of a weapon by a previous offender, and three counts of possession of a weapon by a previous juvenile offender. The charges stemmed from reports of threatening behavior and evidence discovered in a warrantless search of a car Neuhaus was driving at the time of his arrest. During the search, police found a rifle, a shotgun, and ammunition.

¶ 3 Neuhaus filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence of the weapons and ammunition on the grounds that: (1) police lacked probable cause for the arrest, therefore tainting all evidence found as a result of the arrest; and (2) police exceeded the scope of their search of Neuhaus's vehicle incident to his arrest. The trial court denied the motion. The trial court then granted Neuhaus's motion to sever his menacing counts, and a jury acquitted him of those counts.

¶ 4 The parties entered a plea agreement to resolve the remaining counts. Under the agreement, Neuhaus pled guilty to one count of possession of a weapon by a previous offender, and the prosecution agreed to dismiss all other counts. The agreement included the condition that, in spite of the guilty plea, Neuhaus would preserve the right to appeal the denial of the pretrial motion to suppress. Both parties agreed that the result of the appeal would be dispositive and the prosecution agreed to allow Neuhaus to withdraw his guilty plea in the event of reversal on appeal because the prosecution would have insufficient evidence to move forward with the case without the disputed evidence. The trial court accepted the agreement.

¶ 5 Neuhaus appealed the suppression issue. The court of appeals determined that the agreement constituted a conditional guilty plea, and held that neither rule nor statute authorized conditional pleas under Colorado law. Therefore, the court of appeals held that it had no authority to review the trial court's ruling on the motion to suppress evidence. The court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court, instructing that, because Neuhaus's guilty plea was conditioned on the availability of an appeal, he must be able to withdraw it if he so desires. Also, if Neuhaus withdrew the guilty plea, the court of appeals instructed the trial court to allow the prosecution to reinstate all of the remaining charges against him.

¶ 6 Neuhaus seeks certiorari review by this Court of whether a defendant may enter a conditional guilty plea reserving the right to appeal an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence, and whether his motion to suppress was erroneously denied.FN1

II. Analysis

¶ 7 The primary issue before this Court is one of first impression and requires us to determine whether a defendant may reserve the right to appeal an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence despite having entered a guilty plea. We hold that a guilty plea forecloses appellate review of suppression issues because no Colorado rule or statute permits such a conditional guilty plea. FN2 Further, we decline to create by judicial decision an exception allowing conditional guilty pleas that reserve the right to appeal an unsuccessful pretrial motion to suppress evidence because a reservation of that right is better created by statute or court rule, if at all.

A. Conditional Guilty Pleas

[1] [2] [3] [4] ¶ 8 A guilty plea is an admission of all the elements of a criminal charge. McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 22 L.Ed.2d 418 (1969). Generally, a guilty plea precludes review of issues that arose prior to the plea. People v. McMurtry, 122 P.3d 237, 243 (Colo.2005) (holding that the facts of the case did not establish a conditional plea); FN3 Waits v. People, 724 P.2d 1329, 1337 (Colo.1986) (“The general rule is that a defendant who pleads guilty is precluded from attacking his plea on the ground that evidence was seized in an illegal search and seizure unless a right to challenge the plea is preserved by statute.”); see also Lefkowitz v. Newsome, 420 U.S. 283, 288, 95 S.Ct. 886, 43 L.Ed.2d 196 (1975) (holding that an exception to the general rule exists when a state has a statutory exception permitting an appeal); Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267, 93 S.Ct. 1602, 36 L.Ed.2d 235 (1973) (“When a criminal defendant has solemnly admitted in open court that he is in fact guilty of the offense with which he is charged, he may not thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea.”) (prior to the adoption of Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(a)(2) permitting conditional pleas). That is because a “guilty plea represents a break in the chain of events which has preceded it in the criminal process” and waives all non-jurisdictional errors in the defendant's conviction, including the seizure of evidence. Tollett, 411 U.S. at 266–67, 93 S.Ct. 1602. Consequently, in most states, a defendant must plead not guilty and go to trial to preserve appellate review of his constitutional challenges to pretrial proceedings. Lefkowitz, 420 U.S. at 289, 95 S.Ct. 886.

[5] ¶ 9 A “conditional plea” for the purposes of this case is a guilty plea conditioned upon the defendant's ability to appeal an unsuccessful pretrial motion to suppress evidence. Conditional pleas thus provide an exception to the general rule that a guilty plea forecloses a subsequent appeal of issues that arose prior to the plea. Authority for such an exception arises in three ways: (1) by statute; (2) by court rule; and (3) by judicial decision. A vast majority of jurisdictions that allow conditional pleas do so by statute or rule,FN4 while only two jurisdictions—Alaska and Louisiana—currently rely exclusively on judicial decisions as the authority to establish conditional pleas.FN5

¶ 10 The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permit conditional pleas under Rule 11(a)(2) whereby a defendant may enter a conditional guilty plea reserving the right to petition the appellate court to review a specific trial court ruling.FN6 If the defendant prevails on appeal, he may withdraw his guilty plea. Id. Colorado, however, has no analogous conditional plea rule. Likewise, no Colorado statute provides for conditional guilty pleas.

B. Guilty Pleas and Conditional Guilty Pleas Under Colorado Law

¶ 11 Because no Colorado statute or court rule authorizes conditional pleas, we turn to Colorado precedent to determine whether judicial decision authorizes the practice.

¶ 12 An examination of prior precedent reveals that this Court consistently holds that a guilty plea bars subsequent challenges based on claims of an alleged illegal search and seizure. Consistent with the general rule that a guilty plea forecloses later review of issues that arose prior to the plea, this Court noted that “one who pleads guilty is not in a position to successfully move for vacation of judgment on claims of an alleged illegal search and seizure.” Von Pickrell v. People, 163 Colo. 591, 595, 431 P.2d 1003, 1005 (1967) (citing United States v. Zavada, 291 F.2d 189, 191 (6th Cir.1961)) (holding that evidence may be used at a pre-sentencing hearing following a guilty plea without regard to the constitutionality of its seizure). Then, in Lucero v. People, 164 Colo. 247, 250–51, 434 P.2d 128, 130 (1967), this Court explored the contours of Von Pickrell, explaining:

[T]he validity of the search for and seizure of the contraband goods became moot upon the entry of the plea of guilty. Von Pickrell v. People, , 431 P.2d 1003, announced by our court on October 2, 1967. The defendant forfeited his right to trial by pleading guilty. The only purpose that could be served by suppressing the evidence which was seized by the police would be to prevent its use by the prosecution at the trial. Colo.R.Crim.P. 41(e). The prosecution's need for the evidence, after the guilty plea, ceased to exist, hence the question of the validity of the evidence was not properly before the court, unless of course, it could be shown that the defendant did not intelligently, understandingly, and voluntarily enter the plea of guilty.

And, finally, this Court specifically held that a guilty plea precludes an attack on the plea on the grounds that evidence was seized in an illegal search and seizure unless a right to challenge the plea is preserved by statute. Waits, 724 P.2d at 1337 (citations omitted).

¶ 13 This Court has specifically addressed conditional guilty pleas in two cases, People v. Pharr, 696 P.2d 235, 236 (Colo.1984), and People v. McMurtry, 122 P.3d 237, 240 (Colo.2005). In Pharr, we disapproved of the conditional guilty plea in the context of a constitutional challenge to a statute because no basis in rule or statute exists in Colorado to allow a defendant to plead guilty while reserving his right to appeal the constitutionality of a statute. 696 P.2d at 236. Prior to trial, Pharr moved to...

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  • Commonwealth v. Gomez
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • August 10, 2018
    ...plea of guilty or no contest.9 As the Commonwealth notes, most States that permit conditional pleas do so by statute or rule. See Neuhaus v. People, 2012 CO 65, ¶ 9, 289 P.3d 19. Just over one-half of those jurisdictions modeled their statutes or rules on Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2), which re......
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4 books & journal articles
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