State v. Umphenour, No. 43286–2015.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtEISMANN, Justice.
Citation160 Idaho 503,376 P.3d 707
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. Gerald K. UMPHENOUR, Defendant–Appellant.
Decision Date04 May 2016
Docket NumberNo. 43286–2015.

160 Idaho 503
376 P.3d 707

STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff–Respondent
Gerald K. UMPHENOUR, Defendant–Appellant.

No. 43286–2015.

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise, February 2016 Term.

May 4, 2016.
Rehearing Denied Aug. 10, 2016.

376 P.3d 708

Eric D. Fredericksen, Deputy State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, argued for appellant.

Russell J. Spencer, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, argued for respondent.

EISMANN, Justice.

This is an appeal out of the Second Judicial District contending that the district court failed to secure an express waiver from the defendant of his right to a jury trial before proceeding with a court trial. Because the aberrant procedure used by the district court was, in essence, a guilty plea and not a court trial, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


Factual Background.

On August 30, 2012, an information was filed charging Gerald K. Umphenour with possession of methamphetamine, a felony, and with resisting and obstructing an officer and having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle, both misdemeanors. He entered a plea of not guilty to the charges, and the district court set a jury trial to commence on May 22, 2013, at 9:00 a.m.

About fifteen minutes before the jury trial was scheduled to commence, the district court went on the record with the prosecutor, Mr. Umphenour, and his counsel present. The court stated that both counsel had a proposal to “stipulate to certain facts, and that the Court would make findings based upon those facts.” Mr. Umphenour's counsel agreed and said that he had gone over with Mr. Umphenour the district court's proposed jury instruction setting forth the elements of the crime of possession of methamphetamine and that Mr. Umphenour would stipulate that those elements of the crime were true. In addition, the State would dismiss the two misdemeanors, Mr. Umphenour would remain free on bond, the sentencing would occur at a later time, and there was no agreement regarding any recommended sentence.

Mr. Umphenour's counsel read the four elements of the crime as set forth in the jury instruction: “[1] On or about June 6th; [2] in the State of Idaho; [3] Gerald K. Umphenour possessed any amount of methamphetamine; and four, the defendant either knew it was methamphetamine or believed it was a controlled substance.” The prosecutor also stipulated to those facts. The district court

376 P.3d 709

asked Mr. Umphenour if he was stipulating or agreeing to the facts as recited by his attorney, and Mr. Umphenour answered, “Yeah.”

After reciting the terms of the agreement, the court asked, “And so it's my understanding that both counsel want me to make a finding with respect to guilt or innocence based upon the stipulation that's been entered into by both parties?” Mr. Umphenour's counsel and the prosecutor both said that was correct. The court then stated that based upon the stipulation it found the facts to be as recited by Mr. Umphenour's counsel and that “[b]ased upon those stipulated facts and findings, the Court does find that Mr. Umphenour is guilty of the offense in count one, that is, possession of a controlled substance.”

The district court ultimately sentenced Mr. Umphenour to the custody of the Idaho Board of Correction for a term of four years, with the first six months fixed and the remainder indeterminate. The court also imposed court costs of $265.50, a fine of $500.00, and restitution to the state police forensics laboratory in the amount of $100.00. Mr. Umphenour timely appealed.

The appeal was initially heard by the Idaho Court of Appeals, which vacated Mr. Umphenour's conviction on the ground that the district court had conducted a court trial without first obtaining Mr. Umphenour's personal, express waiver of his right to a jury trial. We granted the State's petition for review. In cases that come before this Court on a petition for review of a decision of the Court of Appeals, we do not review the decision of the Court of Appeals. We hear the case anew as if the appeal had come directly to this Court. State v. Suriner, 154 Idaho 81, 83, 294 P.3d 1093, 1095 (2013).


Was Mr. Umphenour deprived of his constitutional right to a jury trial, under both the Idaho and United States Constitutions, when the district court held a court trial in the absence of any waiver of that right by Mr. Umphenour?

Mr. Umphenour contends that his judgment of conviction must be set aside because “his constitutional right to a jury trial was violated when his guilt was found by the district court, rather than a jury, in the absence of a personal waiver.” To address that issue, we must first determine the nature of what occurred in the district court on May 22, 2013. Was it a court trial or was it a guilty plea? It is clear that it was a guilty plea.

The information charged Mr. Umphenour with possession of methamphetamine as follows: “That the Defendant, GERALD K. UMPHENOUR, on or about the 6th day of June, 2012, in the City of Orofino, County of Clearwater, State of Idaho, did willingly, knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully possess a controlled substance, to-wit: Methamphetamine, a Schedule II narcotic drug.” The district court's proposed jury instruction accurately set forth the elements of the crime charged.1 Admitting the elements of the crime alleged in the charging document is simply pleading guilty to the crime charged. As the United States Supreme Court stated in Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 90 S.Ct. 1463, 25 L.Ed.2d 747 (1970), “Central to the plea and the foundation for entering judgment against the defendant is the defendant's admission in

376 P.3d 710

open court that he committed the acts charged in the indictment.” Id. at 748, 90 S.Ct. at 1468–69, 25 L.Ed.2d at 757. By admitting the elements of the crime, Mr. Umphenour admitted the acts charged in the information.

Once Mr. Umphenour admitted the elements of the crime charged, there was nothing to be tried by the district court. It was agreed that the two misdemeanors would be dismissed. A trial is “[a] formal judicial examination of evidence and determination of legal claims in an adversary proceeding.” Black's Law Dictionary 1510 (7th ed.1999). A court trial is: “A trial before a judge without a jury. The judge decides questions of fact as well as questions of law.” Id. There were no questions of fact for the district court to decide, and the court did not find any facts. The only issue for the court was whether Mr. Umphenour's admission of the four elements set forth in the court's proposed jury instruction was sufficient for the court to conclude that Mr. Umphenour was guilty of the crime. That was no different from a defendant admitting as true the allegations in the charging document and the court then accepting the defendant's guilty plea. When accepting a guilty plea, the court does not conduct a court trial. It is apparent that Mr. Umphenour understood that what occurred was, in essence, a guilty plea because he later filed a pro se motion seeking to withdraw his guilty plea.

By holding that what occurred was in reality a guilty plea, we are not endorsing the aberrant procedure conducted by the district court in this case. The parties did not explain why they chose such a deviation from established procedures. One possibility is that the court minutes for February 19, 2013, state that Mr. Umphenour pled guilty, but the court refused to accept his guilty plea after hearing his explanation of the circumstances. The minutes do not state what explanation he gave, only that after hearing it the court refused to accept the guilty plea. It may be that the procedure conducted here was concocted by counsel and accepted by the court as being a form of an Alford plea. If the case could not have been resolved by a guilty plea, whether it was an admission of acts constituting the crime or an Alford plea, then the court should have proceeded with the jury trial. The jury was waiting, and the witnesses had been subpoenaed.

The procedure adopted simply created fertile ground for an appeal and possibly post-conviction relief. A guilty plea “is more than an admission of past conduct; it is the defendant's consent that judgment of conviction may be entered without a trial—a waiver of his right to trial before a jury or a judge.” Brady, 397 U.S. at 748, 90 S.Ct. at 1468–69, 25 L.Ed.2d at 757. Mr. Umphenour obviously knew he was giving up his right to a jury trial. The waiver of that right need not be express. State v. Colyer, 98 Idaho 32, 34, 557 P.2d 626, 628 (1976). “Although the record must show that the defendant waived his constitutional rights and understood the consequences of pleading guilty, we think it is sufficient if such waiver or understanding can be fairly inferred from the record as a whole.” Id. Mr. Umphenour's waiver of his right to a jury trial can be fairly inferred from the record as a whole in this case.2

376 P.3d 711

In holding that his waiver of the right to a jury trial could be fairly inferred, we are only referring to a waiver of that right in connection with a guilty plea. We express no opinion as to whether...

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