State v. Coutts

Decision Date10 April 1980
Docket NumberNo. 12874,12874
Citation101 Idaho 110,609 P.2d 642
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Anthony COUTTS, aka Gerald Ralph Anthony Cootz, aka William Lee Schmidt, aka Billy Lee, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Neil O. Walter of Wilson & Walter, Bonners Ferry, for defendant-appellant.

David H. Leroy, Atty. Gen., Lynn E. Thomas, Deputy Atty. Gen., Boise, for plaintiff-respondent.

McFADDEN, Justice.

Following a plea of guilty before the district court, defendant-appellant Gerald Anthony Coutts was found guilty of a charge of grand larceny (theft of a pickup truck) and was sentenced to an indeterminate term of fourteen years imprisonment. He appealed from the judgment of conviction. On appeal Coutts contends his guilty plea was not voluntary and should not have been accepted by the courts. However, it is the conclusion of this court that the record does not sustain this contention. The propriety of acceptance of a guilty plea is governed by I.C.R. 11 1 and State v. Colyer, 98 Idaho 32, 557 P.2d 626 (1976).

In State v. Colyer, this court stated:

"Whether a plea is voluntary and understood entails inquiry into three areas: (1) whether the defendant's plea was voluntary in the sense that he understood the nature of the charges and was not coerced ; (2) whether the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his rights to a jury trial, to confront his accusers, and to refrain from incriminating himself; and (3) whether the defendant understood the consequences of pleading guilty. It is clear that the voluntariness of a guilty plea can be determined by considering all of the relevant surrounding circumstances contained in the record. Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 25 L.Ed.2d 747 (1970); McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 90 S.Ct. 1441, 25 L.Ed.2d 763 (1970); Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 238 n. 25, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 36 L.Ed. 854 (1973)." 98 Idaho at 34, 557 P.2d at 628 (Emphasis added.)

In this case, the district judge who handled this stage of the proceedings first explained to the defendant the nature and circumstances of the charge against him, the consequences of his guilty plea, including his waiver of the right to a speedy trial before a jury, the right to confront witnesses called against him, and the right to present evidence. He was advised that in the event of a trial he would not have to take the witness stand or give any testimony unless he chose to do so, of his right to an attorney, and that the State must prove to the jury his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court advised him of the maximum sentence that could be imposed, and that if he had been previously convicted of a crime, especially a felony, it would weigh heavily against him. After that explanation, Coutts entered his plea of guilty. The trial court then further inquired as to the reason he wished to plead guilty. After still further inquiry the court advised him that it wanted to be certain he knew what he was doing, and Coutts replied that he had been in prison and knew what he was doing.

Only after this exhaustive inquiry was the court fully satisfied that it should accept the defendant's plea of guilty. The record thus clearly shows that the district court meticulously explained to Coutts the nature and circumstances of the charge and the consequences of his guilty plea; it also clearly appears that Coutts actually understood the judge's explanation.

Coutts argues, however, that the plea was not voluntary, in light of his statements at arraignment and at the sentencing hearing that he was subjected to extreme conditions of incarceration, that the confession which was the heart of the state's case was the product of a deal, and that he was dissatisfied with his attorney.

Coutts claims that during his incarceration at the Boundary County jail he was "denied cigarettes," and that he was placed in a cell which had no toilet and no running water. The record also indicates that Coutts had threatened an escape attempt and had physically threatened a guard, and that because of this he was forced to lie on his stomach and to place his hands behind his back for handcuffing prior to being removed from his cell for arraignment.

But Mr. Coutts' attorney, who also represents him on appeal, stated at the arraignment that while the conditions at the jail were not optimal,

"this is not the reason for his plea. He is not pleading so he can be moved to another prison or the plea has not been coerced. (sic) I think he is objecting to the conditions here and his treatment. But I think from my meeting with him he is aware of what he is doing (by pleading guilty)."

We hold that the record supports the attorney's conclusion.

Nor did Coutts' allegation that his confession may have been part of a deal compel the judge to refuse to accept his guilty plea. The place to challenge the voluntariness of the confession was, of course, at trial. Such challenges are by no means unusual and are often successful. In addition, at both the arraignment and the sentencing hearing before another district judge, Coutts was repeatedly offered the opportunity to change his plea and declined to do so.

Finally, Coutts cannot successfully ground his claim of coercion on his dissatisfaction with his attorney. The clear indication from the arraignment transcript was that Coutts did not feel that he was poorly represented, but that his attorney left something to be desired in the "lawyer-client" relationship. That is, he thought that his counsellor was a "good attorney," and his dissatisfaction was "just personal."

It is the conclusion of this court that the record reflects that Coutts' guilty plea was voluntary and that he understood its consequences, and it was not error for the district court to accept it.

Coutts also contends that certain unsworn remarks made by the prosecutor at the sentencing hearing were so inflammatory as to taint that hearing beyond the limit of due process.

At that hearing the court had before it the presentence report previously ordered. The court determined that Coutts had received a copy of the report in sufficient time to examine it and then offered him an opportunity to comment on any portions of it he felt were incorrect. Coutts took advantage of this opportunity and agreed that the general account of his past history was accurate and explained certain other portions of the report. The trial court then inquired whether the plea of guilty had in any manner been forced or compelled, and advised Coutts that if he had entered a plea of guilty which he did not wish to enter the court could and would set it aside and afford an opportunity for a full jury trial. The defendant declined this offer and advised the court there was no reason sentence should not be imposed.

The prosecutor then made a statement in the course of which he stated in essence that Coutts had failed to mention several items

"for example the car which he was in control of was allegedly a stolen vehicle out of Texas . . . . Allegedly his wife, just through three independent sources that I have confirmed and that I believe to be viable sources, has been beaten, shot "MR. SHELTON (counsel for defendant): Your honor, I object unless there is an opportunity for the defendant to

"THE COURT: He will have that opportunity.

"MR. DAY: (prosecutor) has been beaten and shot by Mr. Cootz. When she was in town she was in mortal fear of Mr. Cootz."

Appellant contends on this appeal that the trial court failed to follow the provisions of I.C. §§ 19-2515(a) and 19-2516.

"19-2515. Inquiry into mitigating or aggravating circumstances (a) After a plea or verdict of guilty, where a discretion is conferred upon the court as to the extent of the punishment, the court, upon the oral or written suggestion of either party that there are circumstances which may be properly taken into view either in aggravation or mitigation of the punishment, may, in its discretion, hear the same summarily, at a specified time, and upon such notice to the adverse party as it may direct."

"19-2516. Inquiry into circumstances Examination of witnesses. The circumstances must be presented by the testimony of witnesses examined in open court, except that when a witness is so sick or infirm as to be unable to attend, his deposition may be taken by a magistrate of the county, out of court, upon such notice to the adverse party as the court may direct. No affidavit or testimony, or representation of any kind, verbal or written, can be offered to or received by the court, or a judge thereof, in aggravation or mitigation of the punishment, except as provided in this and the preceding section."

Appellant has argued that the prosecutor's reference to the alleged incidents was a presentation of unsworn evidence contrary to these statutory provisions.

In response to appellant's contentions in this regard, other states have dealt with similar contentions, and two lines of authority have developed. In People v. Neal, 97 Cal.App.2d 668, 218 P.2d 556 (1950), and State v. Willms, 117 N.W.2d 84 (N.D.1962) those courts have required a strict compliance with the particular states' statutory schemes. The other line of authority, which holds that in the absence of a formal request for a hearing of evidence by actual testimony, the court may on a sentencing hearing hear the presentation in a more informal manner. See Barber v. Gladden, 228 Or. 140, 363 P.2d 771 (1961), interpreting O.R.S. §§ 137.080 and .090, which are essentially identical to I.C. §§ 19-2515(a) and 19-2516. Williams v. State, 321 P.2d 990 (Okl.1958) aff'd 358 U.S. 576, 79 S.Ct. 421, 3 L.Ed.2d 516 (1959); People v. Carter, 398 Ill. 336, 75 N.E.2d 861 (1947) cert. denied 333 U.S. 882, 68 S.Ct. 908, 92 L.Ed. 1157 (1948).

In Coffman v. Gladden, 229 Or. 366, 366 P.2d 171 (Ore.1961), the court reaffirmed Barber v. Gladden, supra, and its interpretation of the statutes to require the taking of evidence...

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