State v. Deanda, 115,828

Citation411 P.3d 330,307 Kan. 500
Decision Date23 February 2018
Docket NumberNo. 115,828,115,828
Parties STATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Joaquin Alfonso DEANDA, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas

Carl F.A. Maughan, of Maughan Law Group LC, of Wichita, was on the brief for appellant.

Linda J. Lobmeyer, special prosecutor, Susan H. Richmeier, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellee.

The opinion of the court was delivered by Biles, J.:

Joaquin Alfonso DeAnda appeals from the district court's denial of his presentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea to first-degree premeditated murder. We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2008, Garden City police discovered a 16-year-old girl's body in a trash dumpster behind the house where 17-year-old DeAnda lived with his mother. The State charged DeAnda with first-degree murder, rape, and aggravated criminal sodomy. Before trial, DeAnda agreed to plead guilty to first-degree premeditated murder in exchange for the State dismissing the remaining charges. The district court accepted the guilty plea, made a finding that aggravating circumstances existed, and sentenced DeAnda to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years. See K.S.A. 21-4635.

On appeal, this court vacated the hard 50 sentence and remanded for resentencing as required by Alleyne v. United States , 570 U.S. 99, 103, 117-18, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed. 2d 314 (2013) (jury must make aggravating factual determination required for hard 50 sentence). State v. DeAnda , 299 Kan. 594, 324 P.3d 1115 (2014) ; see also State v. Soto , 299 Kan. 102, Syl. ¶ 9, 322 P.3d 334 (2014) (applying Alleyne to K.S.A. 21-4635 statutory procedure).

On remand, DeAnda moved to withdraw his guilty plea. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing during which the parties offered joint exhibits, including mental health evaluations concerning DeAnda's competency. DeAnda and Melanie Freeman-Johnson, defense counsel at the time of the original plea, both testified. The court denied the motion, stating:

"In utilizing the case of State v. Edgar [281 Kan. 30, 36, 127 P.3d 986 (2006) ] in evaluating today's case, Court finds as follows: Trial counsel in this matter at the time that the plea was entered is one of the better criminal trial attorneys that the Court has encountered. She has exercised due diligence in representing the defendant in all stages and actively solicited services and opportunities on behalf of the defendant....
"The second aspect of the Edgar case dealing with being misled, coerced, mistreated, or unfairly taken advantage of, the Court would find that this does not apply to Mr. DeAnda's situation. We have had two previous arraignments, one of which Mr. DeAnda entered not guilty pleas and a jury trial was set. There is at least twice the arraignment checklist that this court has used to identify the rights of any given defendant or used and reviewed with Mr. DeAnda in open record. There were written plea agreements and waiver of right utilized to identify what the agreement was and what rights Mr. DeAnda was going to be surrendering. There was in addition a plea advisory of rights. Mr. DeAnda had over the period of the two ... and a half years had three opportunities to go to Larned State Hospital to have various additional medical and psychological experts utilized both to assist him in adjusting his medications and to ensuring that he was understanding the nature of what was going on, and the medicines were adequately balanced and properly monitored for purposes of being taken by Mr. DeAnda.
"Question on the third part of the Edgar evaluation is whether or not the plea was fairly and understandably made. Court notes that there were at the time the plea was entered three charges against Mr. DeAnda. One involved a life sentence. This is one that was ultimately entered on in terms of a plea. Sentence would involve a life sentence. There were two options that apply. Certainly at that time one was a 25-year minimum sentence. The other was for aggravating factors being applied, that the sentence could be requiring a 50-year minimum sentence. There were two additional counts that were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Both were charged as level 1 on the nondrug ... grid. Each of them had at least the possibility of an additional period of time of jail of 165 months. That is the aggravated number in a box showing the ‘I’ category. That means that if he were to be convicted of all three original charges, he could be facing or was running the risk of facing an additional 13.75 years for each of those two counts, or a little over an additional 27 years either above and beyond the 25-year minimum sentence for life or the 50-year sentence as might be applicable.
"Court notes that mental health issues have been a continuing problem for Mr. DeAnda for probably coming on ten years now.... [H]e was dealing with some issues that were requiring the attention of his family and medical staff. The real issue is not necessarily whether or not he was having mental health issues, because clearly he was. The issue is whether he was capable of understanding the concept of performing acts that would allow him to decide whether he was acting right or wrong in terms of any moral ... certainty.
"At the time the plea was entered, the Court finds that Mr. DeAnda was in fact capable of making an informed decision and did in fact intelligently act in that capacity....
"... Mr. DeAnda had received extensive assistance, both in mental health care and in understanding the nature of these proceedings ... the motion for request setting aside the plea entered by Mr. DeAnda is hereby denied...."

DeAnda timely filed a notice of appeal. Jurisdiction is proper. K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 22-3601(b)(4) ("[A]ny case in which the crime was committed on or after July 1, 1993, and the defendant has been convicted of an off-gird crime."); K.S.A. 60-2101(b) (Supreme Court jurisdiction over direct appeals governed by K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 22-3601 ).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

DeAnda argues for de novo review, claiming it is appropriate because his due process rights are at stake. He cites State v. Wills , 244 Kan. 62, 65-68, 765 P.2d 1114 (1988), for support, but that case deals with the State's alleged breach of a plea agreement. That is not what happened in DeAnda's case.

When considering plea withdrawals, a district court has discretion under K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 22-3210(d)(1) : "A plea of guilty or nolo contendere, for good cause shown and within the discretion of the court , may be withdrawn at any time before sentence is adjudged." (Emphasis added.) Therefore, an appellate court reviews a district court's decision to deny a plea withdrawal motion and the underlying determination that the defendant has not met the burden to show good cause for abuse of discretion. State v. Reu-El , 306 Kan. 460, Syl. ¶ 1, 394 P.3d 884 (2017). That standard of review is well known:

"Judicial discretion is abused if judicial action (1) is arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable, i.e. , if no reasonable person would have taken the view adopted by the trial court; (2) is based on an error of law, i.e. , if the discretion is guided by an erroneous legal conclusion; or (3) is based on an error of fact, i.e. , if substantial competent evidence does not support a factual finding on which a prerequisite conclusion of law or the exercise of discretion is based." State v. Ward , 292 Kan. 541, Syl. ¶ 3, 256 P.3d 801 (2011).

DeAnda bears the burden of establishing the district court's abuse of discretion. See State v. Denmark-Wagner , 292 Kan. 870, 875, 258 P.3d 960 (2011). When employing an abuse of discretion standard, an appellate court does not reweigh evidence or assess witness credibility. Reu-El , 306 Kan. 460, Syl. ¶ 1, 394 P.3d 884.

THE DISTRICT COURT DID NOT ABUSE ITS DISCRETION

A trial court may, for good cause and at its discretion, allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty or nolo contendere plea at any time before sentencing. K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 22-3210(d)(1). In addressing whether a defendant has shown good cause, a district court typically considers three factors: (1) whether "the defendant was represented by competent counsel"; (2) whether "the defendant was misled, coerced, mistreated, or unfairly taken advantage of"; and (3) whether "the plea was fairly and understandingly made." State v. Edgar , 281 Kan. 30, 36, 127 P.3d 986 (2006). These factors " ‘need not apply in a defendant's favor in every case, and other factors may be duly considered in the district judge's discretionary decision on the existence or nonexistence of good cause.’ " State v. Macias-Medina , 293 Kan. 833, 837, 268 P.3d 1201 (2012) ; see also State v. Fritz , 299 Kan. 153, 154, 321 P.3d 763 (2014).

DeAnda argues all three Edgar factors support his claim of good cause to withdraw his plea. He alleges: (1) Freeman-Johnson, trial counsel, provided inadequate advocacy on his behalf; (2) "[t]he plea process and the competency evaluation conspired to take advantage of [his] fragile state of mind"; and (3) the guilty plea was not freely, voluntarily, and understandably made. We consider each claim.

1. Representation by competent counsel

DeAnda argues,

"Despite counsel's knowledge of the fact that defendant's mental health was in constant fluctuations and that there was an apparent fluctuation between competency and incompetency over short periods of time, counsel relied upon a snap shot of the defendant's apparent competency some time before the plea to assume that the defendant was competent and understanding of the nature of the plea at the time of the plea.... As a result counsel allowed young, immature and mentally ill defendant to enter a plea which carried a life sentence."

In addition, DeAnda claims Freeman-Johnson's "lackluster advocacy at the crucial point of the plea provides good cause for [him] to withdraw [h]is plea." But as quoted above, the district court found DeAnda was represented by competent counse...

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