State v. Crenshaw

Decision Date07 March 1989
Docket NumberNo. 13178,13178
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Marshall CRENSHAW.

A. Paul Spinella, Bloomfield, for appellant (defendant).

Mitchell S. Brody, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, was Dennis O'Connor, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (State).


COVELLO, Associate Justice.

The defendant, Marshall Crenshaw, appeals from his conviction of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. 1 The relevant facts are as follows.

On April 21, 1985, the defendant was arrested and charged with the murder of his ten month old daughter, Dale-Lyn Nichole Crenshaw. Following a hearing in probable cause, the defendant pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried by a jury. On December 16, 1985, the trial court, Stoughton, J., ordered a competency evaluation for the defendant pursuant to General Statutes § 54-56d. 2 The evaluation was conducted by a clinical team from the department of mental health comprised of a psychiatrist, a pyschiatric social worker and a psychologist. In its report to the court, the team was unanimous in its opinion that the "defendant's presumption of competency has been sustained through this examination, and that he both understands the legal proceedings against him and can cooperate with counsel in his own defense." On December 31, 1985, the trial court, Barall, J., ruled that the defendant was competent to stand trial.

On March 21, 1986, the defendant's counsel, Richard Kelly, filed a motion to withdraw from the case. Attorney Kelly informed the court that if he were "forced to proceed in this particular case, it may well be placing counsel in an irreconcilable ethical conflict." 3 The trial court, Barall, J., denied this motion.

On April 17, 1986, two days after the trial began, the defendant pleaded guilty to murder under the doctrine established in North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970). 4 A plea canvass followed. On April 21, 1986, the defendant filed a pro se motion seeking to withdraw his prior guilty plea, electing a trial and requesting the appointment of a special public defender. The trial court, Quinn, J., denied this motion.

On May 14, 1986, the trial court granted the defendant's motion requesting a diagnostic psychiatric examination pursuant to General Statutes § 17-244. 5 A diagnostic team at the Whiting Forensic Institute concluded that the defendant "was not mentally ill to an extent that he posed a danger to himself or to others. The team decline[d] to recommend probation and return[ed] the defendant for sentencing in accordance with his conviction." On August 20, 1986, the trial court, Quinn, J., sentenced the defendant to a term of twenty-five years of incarceration.

The defendant claims on appeal that the trial court erred in: (1) denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea; (2) failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine the factual basis for his motion to withdraw his guilty plea; and (3) denying defense counsel's request to withdraw from the case. We find no error.


The defendant first claims that the trial court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Practice Book § 721 specifies circumstances under which a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea after it has been entered. 6 "[O]nce entered, a guilty plea cannot be withdrawn except by leave of the court, within its sound discretion, and a denial thereof is reversible only if it appears that there has been an abuse of discretion." Szarwak v. Warden, 167 Conn. 10, 23, 355 A.2d 49 (1974). "The burden is always on the defendant to show a plausible reason for the withdrawal of a plea of guilty." State v. Slater, 169 Conn. 38, 46, 362 A.2d 499 (1975).

The defendant argues that he did not intelligently and voluntarily enter his plea because at the time he entered it he was simply following his attorney's instructions and did not understand that he would receive a minimum sentence of twenty-five years. He claims, therefore, that he has a plausible reason for withdrawing his plea. We disagree.

Due process requires that a plea be entered voluntarily and intelligently. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243 n. 5, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 1712 n. 5, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969); McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 1170, 22 L.Ed.2d 418 (1969); Oppel v. Lopes, 200 Conn. 553, 556, 512 A.2d 888 (1986); State v. Lopez, 197 Conn. 337, 341, 497 A.2d 390 (1985). "Because every valid guilty plea must be demonstrably voluntary, knowing and intelligent, we require the record to disclose an act that represents a knowing choice among available alternative courses of action, an understanding of the law in relation to the facts, and sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences of the plea." State v. Watson, 198 Conn. 598, 604, 504 A.2d 497 (1986). "A determination as to whether a plea has been knowingly and voluntarily entered entails an examination of all of the relevant circumstances." State v. Wright, 207 Conn. 276, 287, 542 A.2d 299 (1988).

The trial court, Quinn, J., canvassed the defendant concerning the voluntariness of his plea pursuant to Practice Book §§ 711 through 713 and Boykin v. Alabama, supra. This canvass "necessarily implies that [the trial court] has made an inquiry into the defendant's competence to plead." State v. Watson, supra. An examination of the plea canvass reveals the following: The defendant entered an Alford plea. The defendant explained to the court that an Alford plea "means that they have enough evidence against you." The court expanded upon the defendant's definition 7 and asked him if he had discussed this with his attorney. The defendant said that he had and that he was satisfied with the advice that his attorney had given him. The court then asked the defendant if he understood that he was giving up his right to a trial by court or jury, along with his right to face and cross-examine witnesses against him, and to bring in any witnesses to testify on his behalf, and that by entering this plea he was incriminating himself and waiving his right against self-incrimination. The defendant responded that he understood the ramifications involved. The state's attorney then delineated the factual basis that would be produced to establish the defendant's guilt. 8

The court then asked the defendant if he was familiar with the maximum penalty that the court could impose on a conviction of murder in the first degree. The defendant responded that it was "sixty-years." The court then asked the defendant if he understood what the minimum sentence would be. He responded that it would be "twenty-five." The court then read the defendant the definition of murder.

Finally the court asked the state if there was an agreement as to the penalty to be imposed. The state informed the court that it would be making a recommendation at the time of sentencing of twenty-five years. The defendant stated, in response to the court's inquiry, that he knew this at the time he entered his plea. The defendant also informed the court that he was not under any threats to plead guilty, that his attorney had been a "great lawyer" and had done everything possible to protect his interests.

In concluding the plea hearing, the court stated that it "will make a finding that [the defendant] has been advised by competent counsel, he understands his constitutional rights and has waived those rights. He understands fully that he has a right to a trial by Court or jury and has waived it."

On April 21, 1986, the defendant mailed to the court a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea. In that motion he stated that he had not intelligently and competently entered his plea and that his attorney had led him astray. The defendant claimed that he had been led to believe that he would receive substantially less than the twenty-five year sentence. On May 7, 1986, a hearing was held on this motion and the trial court, Quinn, J., subsequently denied it.

A review of all the relevant circumstances clearly indicates that the defendant had intelligently and voluntarily entered his Alford plea. The trial court's determination on December 31, 1985, that he was competent to stand trial, lays to rest any question about the defendant's capacity to comprehend the charges against him and the consequences of his plea.

Furthermore, aside from his bald assertion, the defendant produced no evidence that he was simply following his attorney's instructions when he entered his plea. "It is not enough for the defendant to claim that he was told what to say by his lawyer. To warrant consideration, the defendant must allege and provide facts which would justify permitting him to withdraw his plea...." State v. Deboben, 187 Conn. 469, 474, 446 A.2d 828 (1982).

Finally, the record does not support the defendant's claim that he was confused at the time he entered the plea. Significantly, it was the defendant and not the trial court who first mentioned that the minimum sentence for a conviction of murder is twenty-five years. Additionally, the defendant told the court that he knew that the state would be recommending a twenty-five year prison term and that he had known this at the time he entered his plea. We are therefore unpersuaded when he now claims that he did not understand that he would receive a twenty-five year sentence.


The defendant next claims that the trial court erred in failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. He argues that the voluntariness of his plea is questionable in light of his mental capabilities and the inadequacy of the trial court record. We disagree.

"For the purpose of determining whether to hold an evidentiary hearing, the court should ordinarily assume any specific allegations of fact to be...

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