State v. Laffoon

Decision Date03 April 2020
Docket NumberNo. 120,583,120,583
Citation460 P.3d 394 (Table)
Parties STATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Timothy Scott LAFFOON, Appellant.
CourtKansas Court of Appeals

Kai Tate Mann, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, for appellant.

Jacqie Spradling, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellee.

Before Gardner, P.J., Buser, J., and Burgess, S.J.


Per Curiam:

Timothy S. Laffoon pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal threat. He appeals the district court's denials of his motion to continue a plea withdrawal hearing and his presentence motion to withdraw his plea. Because we find the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying either motion, we affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

The State charged Laffoon with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of criminal threat, and criminal use of a weapon. Following a signed plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of criminal threat. The State dismissed the remaining counts.

At the plea hearing in April 2018, Burton Harding represented Laffoon. Harding explained that, after going over the plea agreement, Laffoon wished to plea. Under oath, Laffoon agreed he had read and discussed with Harding every part of the petition to enter a plea. Laffoon stated he understood the consequences of pleading to two felonies. Laffoon confirmed that his plea was voluntary. He also affirmed he had sufficient time to discuss his plea with Harding and was satisfied with Harding's representation. When the district court asked him if he was pleading guilty because he was guilty, Laffoon responded, "Yes, sir."

The State gave this factual basis for the plea:

"If the Court please, on the evening of August 22nd, 2017, law enforcement officers were dispatched to a home here in Bourbon County, Kansas. There they met and spoke with Tamara Royal-Bey, who indicated that this defendant had come over to her house and had taken an aggressive stance displaying a switchblade knife in his right hand and pointed that knife at her and her family. As a result of the defendant's actions, Ms. Bey was placed in a reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm. In an attempt to protect his mother, her 16-year-old son, DLR, instructed the defendant to leave the premises. The defendant told the juvenile, quote, watch who you fuck with, end quote, intending that statement to cause fear in the juvenile."

Laffoon affirmed this would be the State's evidence at trial. Finding Laffoon had made the plea freely and voluntarily and had admitted to the essential factual elements for the crimes, the district court accepted Laffoon's plea.

On May 1, 2018, Harding filed both a motion to withdraw as counsel and a motion to withdraw Laffoon's plea. The plea withdrawal motion stated Laffoon wished to withdraw his plea because "Mr. Laffoon has a difference of opinion from his attorney and no longer wishes to take his attorney's advice." The State responded that the district court should summarily deny Laffoon's plea withdrawal motion because Laffoon had not asserted facts showing good cause to withdraw a plea.

Despite having moved to withdraw as counsel, Harding continued to represent Laffoon at several hearings. At each hearing, the district court granted continuances to address issues with representation. On July 5, 2018, the district court granted Harding's withdrawal as Laffoon's counsel. Five days later, the district court appointed Jason Wiske.

On July 12, 2018, Jason Wiske appeared with Laffoon before the district court. Wiske moved the district court to set the plea withdrawal hearing and sentencing for early September. This was so Wiske would have time to meet with Laffoon and review the case before Laffoon's sentence. The district court continued the hearing to September 28, 2018.

At the start of the September hearing, Wiske moved the district court for a continuance because Wiske had not been able to meet with Laffoon. He also wanted to file a "proper motion" once he had heard why Laffoon wanted to withdraw his plea. The State did not object to a continuance. But instead of continuing the case, the district court allowed Wiske to confer with Laffoon in the hallway. Upon return, Wiske still requested a continuance to research the issue and file a new motion. The district court denied this request and proceeded with the hearing.

While testifying, Laffoon explained he wanted to withdraw his plea because

"[Harding and I] really didn't have a chance to talk and I really didn't realize how serious the charges were. I didn't realize I would go up from my level H to level B on the felony scale I guess. That was pointed out to me by my probation officer."

Laffoon also wanted to tell his side of the story, which he felt he never had a chance to do.

As to the facts, Laffoon admitted that Harding had sent him the State's documents, but he alleged Harding had not reviewed the evidence with him. Laffoon admitted Harding had walked him through the plea agreement, and Laffoon had signed it. Laffoon also affirmed that he had signed the petition to indicate he had every opportunity to talk to Harding about the consequences of his plea.

Harding testified for the State that he had explained to Laffoon on multiple occasions: the charges, the evidence, the best options, the plea agreement, and the consequences of his plea. Harding testified that Laffoon was never happy with the plea. But, based on the evidence, Harding believed a plea would be in Laffoon's best interest. According to Harding, after many discussions, Laffoon decided to enter the plea knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. Harding also testified that he had told Laffoon that this conviction would severely affect his criminal history.

The district court denied Laffoon's plea withdrawal motion. It stated that although it could have denied Laffoon's motion on its face, it allowed Laffoon a hearing. Based on the testimony, the district court found that Laffoon had satisfied none of the Edgar factors. See State v. Edgar , 281 Kan. 30, 36, 127 P.3d 986 (2006). Instead, it found that Harding was competent and effective counsel and Laffoon fairly and knowingly entered his plea. The district court determined that Laffoon's after-the-fact realization that he would be criminal history score B was not good cause to withdraw a plea.

The district court then sentenced Laffoon to 24 months of probation with an underlying 13-month prison sentence.

Laffoon timely appeals.

Did the District Court Err in Denying Laffoon's Request for a Continuance ?

We first address Laffoon's argument that the district court abused its discretion by unreasonably denying his motion to continue the plea withdrawal hearing. Laffoon also contends this denial violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Standard of Review

In a criminal case, the decision to grant a continuance lies within the district court's sound discretion. As a result, this court reviews a denial of continuance under the abuse of discretion standard. State v. Haney , 299 Kan. 256, 259, 323 P.3d 164 (2014). A judicial action constitutes an abuse of discretion if (1) it is arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable; (2) it is based on an error of law; or (3) it is based on an error of fact. State v. Ingham , 308 Kan. 1466, 1469, 430 P.3d 931 (2018). The party asserting the district court abused its discretion bears the burden of showing such abuse of discretion. State v. Thomas , 307 Kan. 733, 739, 415 P.3d 430 (2018). And, under abuse of discretion, this court defers to the district court's fact finding, declining to reweigh evidence or assess witness credibility. See State v. Woodring , 309 Kan. 379, 380, 435 P.3d 54 (2019).


After allowing Wiske and Laffoon to meet in the hallway, the district court denied the renewed request to continue the hearing:

"Well, I can appreciate your request for a continuance. This case has been pending though, for a long time. As I indicated previously, it's a relatively straightforward issue. To be quite honest, I could have denied the motion sua sponte without appointing a new attorney and scheduling for a hearing based on the law, but I've decided to allow Mr. Laffoon the opportunity to have a different attorney on this and to be able to tell the Court—if you are going to call him, Mr. Wiske—tell the Court his reasons to withdraw the plea. So let's go ahead and complete the hearing. The burden is on the defendant."

On appeal, Laffoon contends the district court's ruling was unreasonable. First, Laffoon contends the district court unreasonably justified its denial in mentioning the length of the case. Wiske represented Laffoon for only two months before the hearing and during that time Laffoon did not have a phone or transportation.

Still, a reasonable person could believe that two months was sufficient time for Wiske and Laffoon to act on this case. And the record shows that, despite Laffoon's lack of phone or transportation, he had been able to meet with Harding on multiple occasions. Often, Laffoon and Harding would meet in the hallway of the courthouse, as the district court allowed here. And the record does not reveal that Laffoon's circumstances detrimentally changed between Harding and Wiske's representation. Thus Laffoon's arguments do not convince us that the district court was unreasonable in considering the length of the case.

Second, Laffoon argues the district court mistook the issue as straightforward. Laffoon contends the district court could not know if the issue was straightforward because "there had been no real motion filed." Yet this fails to show how the district court was unreasonable. The district court needed to consider only the motion before it—it could not anticipate grounds not stated in the motion. The district court was not obligated to hold a hearing on that motion. See Supreme Court Rule 133(c) (2019 Kan. S. Ct. R. 204) (stating the district court may forego a motion...

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