State v. Torres

Citation182 Conn. 176,438 A.2d 46
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Decision Date19 August 1980
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Miguel TORRES.

John R. Williams, New Haven, for appellant (defendant).

Robert J. O'Brien, Asst. State's Atty., New Haven, with whom, on the brief, were Arnold Markle, State's Atty., and Guy W. Wolf, III, Asst. State's Atty., New Haven, for appellee (state).


PARSKEY, Associate Justice.

The defendant was charged with the crimes of burglary in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-103, attempted larceny in the second degree in violation of § 53a-123 and § 53a-49a, and being a persistent felony offender under § 53a-40(b). He entered a plea of guilty to the burglary charge. Before the imposition of sentence the defendant filed a motion to vacate his plea on the grounds that (1) it was not voluntary, knowing and intelligent, (2) he did not fully understand the implications of the plea nor did he understand the rights a guilty plea waived, (3) there was no factual basis for the plea, (4) the record did not demonstrate adequately a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver sufficient to support a plea of guilty and (5) the state would not be prejudiced by the relief requested. At oral argument on the motion the defendant amplified these grounds by making eleven claims of law. These may be condensed into three constitutional claims which the defendant has pursued in his brief, namely, that the acceptance of the plea did not comport with constitutional standards, that the defendant lacked an understanding of the plea proceedings and that his guilty plea was tainted by ineffective assistance of counsel. The defendant made an offer of proof and requested an evidentiary hearing to prove the latter two claims. The court denied both the request for a hearing and the motion to vacate the plea and thereafter imposed a sentence of not less than two nor more than four years. The defendant claims error in the denial of both the evidentiary hearing and his motion.


We have set forth in a footnote 1 the complete transcript of the plea proceedings. The defendant, relying principally on United States v. Lincecum, 568 F.2d 1229 (5th Cir. 1978), argues that single-word responses to inquiries from the court invalidates the plea as a matter of constitutional law. We disagree.

Although some form of meaningful dialogue is preferable to monosyllabic responses by the defendant, we have never held that single-word responses require an automatic vacation of a guilty plea. We have said that "(i)f the questioning of a defendant to determine whether a plea of guilty represents a voluntary and intelligent choice and waiver of rights is to have any meaning, the answers elicited from the defendant in open court should be something more than a mouthing of platitudes." State v. Battle, 170 Conn. 469, 475, 365 A.2d 1100 (1976). This is true whether the responses are single words or, as in Battle, single or multiple sentences. "To insulate from attack convictions obtained after a plea of guilty, the trial court is best advised to conduct an on-the-record examination of the defendant which will disclose, inter alia, a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequence, and which will demonstrate that the plea of guilty was entered intelligently, knowingly and voluntarily." State v. Bugbee, 161 Conn. 531, 536, 290 A.2d 332 (1971). If a fair reading of the record satisfies the standards set down in Bugbee, the guilty plea will withstand a constitutional attack based on facial invalidity.

The defendant's reliance on a number of federal cases for the proposition that single-word responses render a guilty plea constitutionally defective is misplaced. In Sierra v. Government of Canal Zone, 546 F.2d 77 (5th Cir. 1977), the court, referring to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, made the following observation: "Routine questions on the subject of understanding are insufficient, and a single response by the defendant that he 'understands' the charge gives no assurance or basis for believing he does." Id., 79. (Emphasis added.) These statements were repeated with approval in United States v. Lincecum, supra, 1231, and Coody v. United States, 570 F.2d 540, 541 (5th Cir. 1978). But in United States v. Dayton, 604 F.2d 931 (5th Cir. 1979), the court upon further reflection noted that "(m)easured deliberation has convinced us that such statements are too broad." Id., 941.

In Dayton the defendant was charged in two counts with unlawfully, knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute a certain quantity of marihuana. Id. The trial court, after reading the indictment to the defendant, inquired whether the defendant understood the nature of the charges, to which the defendant replied "Yes, sir." The court then inquired whether the defendant had any questions about it, to which the defendant responded "No, sir." The court then invited the government's attorney to state the facts which the government contended could be proven following which the court inquired of the defendant whether the facts were true and whether they could be proved against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, to which the defendant responded "Yes your honor.' Id., 942. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the conviction against a challenge that the plea was taken in violation of Rule 11. Id., 942-43.

The defendant argues that Rule 11 embodies constitutional requirements regarding guilty pleas and our own rules §§ 711-713 mirror the federal rule. Even if we assume that this is substantially so; see United States v. Dayton, supra, 946 (Brown, C. J., concurring); Dayton makes clear that single-word responses do not necessarily render guilty pleas constitutionally infirm.

The charge in this case was not complex. It involved entering a private dwelling without permission of the owner with the intent to commit larceny. The defendant stated that he understood the charge and thereafter admitted that he drove his wife's car to a certain residence in Guilford with the intention of "robbing" it, that he and a companion entered the dwelling for the purpose of stealing the television set, that upon being surprised by a neighbor in the course of the burglary the two ran away leaving the television set in the driveway next to the car. The record further discloses that the defendant understood that by pleading guilty he waived his constitutional right to a jury trial, his right to confront his accusers and his privilege against self-incrimination and that he was entering his plea voluntarily after discussing the matter with his attorney. The defendant's attorney, upon inquiry, knew no legal reason why the guilty plea should not be accepted. The record sufficiently meets the requisite constitutional standards for the acceptance of guilty pleas. State v. Bugbee, supra. In addition to the information supplied by the specific responses, the court was entitled to presume that "defense counsel routinely explain the nature of the offense in sufficient detail to give the accused notice of what he is being asked to admit." Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637, 647, 96 S.Ct. 2253, 49 L.Ed.2d 108 (1976); Blue v. Robinson, 173 Conn. 360, 375-76, 377 A.2d 1108 (1977). Except for those inquiries which are constitutionally mandated or are required by our rules, Practice Book, 1978, §§ 711-713, the court is not obliged to assume the role of the defendant's counselor.


The defendant next argues that the court erred in denying him an evidentiary hearing regarding his claim that he did not understand the plea proceedings because of difficulty with the English language and that he did not knowingly waive his constitutional rights because of ineffective assistance of counsel.


Because the entry of a guilty plea is in effect a conviction and the equivalent of a finding of guilty by a jury; Kercheval v. United States, 274 U.S. 220, 223, 47 S.Ct. 582, 583, 71 L.Ed. 1009 (1927); State v. Carta, 90 Conn. 79, 81, 96 A. 411 (1916); "it cannot be truly voluntary unless the defendant possesses an understanding of the law in relation to the facts." McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 1171, 22 L.Ed.2d 418 (1969). See Staton v. Warden, 175 Conn. 328, 331, 398 A.2d 1176 (1978). "Consequently, if a defendant's guilty plea is not equally voluntary and knowing, it has been obtained in violation of due process and is therefore void." McCarthy v. United States, supra. A motion to withdraw a guilty plea which is filed before the imposition of sentence and which raises an issue regarding the voluntariness of the plea strikes at the heart of due process.

Before a guilty plea is accepted a defendant may withdraw it as a matter of right. Practice Book, 1978, § 720. 2 After a guilty plea is accepted but before the imposition of sentence the court is obligated to permit withdrawal upon proof of one of the grounds in § 721. An evidentiary hearing is not required if the record of the plea proceeding and other information in the court file conclusively establishes that the motion is without merit. See Fontaine v. United States, 411 U.S. 213, 215, 93 S.Ct. 1461, 1462, 36 L.Ed.2d 169 (1973).

In considering whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea the court may disregard any allegations of fact, whether contained in the motion or made in an offer of proof, which are either conclusory, vague or oblique. For the purpose of determining whether to hold an evidentiary hearing, the court should ordinarily assume any specific allegations of fact to be true. If such allegations furnish a basis for withdrawal of the plea under § 721 3 and are not conclusively refuted by the record of the plea proceedings and other information contained in the court file, then an evidentiary hearing is required.



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