State v. Watson

Decision Date11 February 1986
Citation198 Conn. 598,504 A.2d 497
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Robert WATSON.

Louis S. Avitabile, Sp. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Patricia A. King, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom was John A. Connelly, State's Atty, for appellee (state).


PETERS, Chief Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is a determination of the circumstances under which a court must initiate an evidentiary inquiry into a defendant's competency before accepting his guilty plea or denying a motion to withdraw such a plea. The defendant, Robert Watson, a/k/a Ollie Ricketts, Jr., was charged, in a two count substitute information, with the crimes of unlawful restraint in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-95(a) 1 and sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70(a). 2 The trial court, after a canvass, accepted the defendant's plea of guilty to each count. On the date set for sentencing, the defendant moved to withdraw his pleas of guilty. The court denied the motion and imposed a total effective sentence of not less than eight nor more than sixteen years.

The defendant, in his appeal to this court, raises four issues. The defendant claims that the trial court erred: (1) in finding that the defendant's pleas of guilty were voluntary without sufficiently inquiring into the defendant's mental capacity to enter into a plea; (2) in denying the defendant effective assistance of counsel on his motions to withdraw his guilty pleas by failing to allow the defendant to obtain substitute counsel; (3) in denying the defendant's motion that his request to withdraw his guilty pleas be heard by another judge; and (4) in denying the defendant's motions to withdraw his pleas for lack of mental capacity without an evidentiary hearing. We find no error.


The pleas of guilty whose validity the defendant now challenges arose under the following circumstances. The defendant had originally been charged not only with sexual assault but also with kidnapping in the first degree. Motions relating to these charges were heard beginning November 20, 1981, and jury selection was begun on November 25, 1981. On December 9, 1981, in the midst of the jury selection process, the defendant informed the court that he wished to plead guilty to a substitute information in accordance with a plea bargain. The state filed a substitute information reducing the charge of kidnapping, a class A felony, to one of unlawful restraint, a class D felony. The state also agreed to enter a nolle prosequi with respect to other pending charges against the defendant upon imposition of a recommended sentence to imprisonment for an effective term of not less than eight nor more than sixteen years.

At the hearing at which the defendant entered his guilty pleas pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970), 3 the state offered the following factual basis for the pleas. At about 12:30 a.m. on February 21, 1981, the victim was accosted by two black men as she was using a public telephone. The men forced her into their car and drove her to a wooded area where each of them sexually assaulted her. The victim escaped from the car and found a state trooper to assist her. The state trooper immediately reported the incident to the Waterbury police, including in his report the victim's description of the men, their car and the car's license number. Approximately twenty minutes later, the defendant and a male companion were stopped in Woodbridge not far from the scene of the assault. The car they were driving matched the victim's description. Medical evidence obtained at a hospital examination of the victim corroborated a sexual assault. The victim identified the defendant, in a photo array, as one of the men who had assaulted her. She also identified the car which the defendant had been driving when he was stopped as the car in which she had been sexually assaulted.

The court conducted the canvass required by Practice Book §§ 711 through 713 to determine whether the defendant's pleas were knowing, voluntary and intelligent. After it had made an inquiry into the defendant's educational history, the court asked the defendant about his medical history. In response to the court's questions, the defendant indicated that he was not presently under medication, that he had been treated for psychosis for the past eight months, that he had recently been taking one hundred fifty milligrams of Elavil and seventy-five grams of Mellaril, and that the last time he had received medication by prescription was two days earlier when he had taken fifty milligrams of Elavil. The defendant informed the court that his medication had been prescribed for him by an unidentified psychiatrist at the "state jail." The court thereupon asked the defendant whether he felt that the medication in any way impaired his present ability to reason, to understand the proceeding against him, or to make decisions on the matters before the court. The defendant replied, "No." The court further asked the defendant whether he felt he was able to think clearly, to weigh the various alternatives before him, and to make a responsible judgment on his own behalf. The defendant several times indicated that he had no doubt about his ability to participate fully in the plea.

The court thereafter turned its attention to other aspects of the plea canvass. The defendant was represented throughout the trial and the plea canvass by a private attorney of his choice. The defendant affirmed that he had had a full opportunity to discuss his case with his attorney and that he was satisfied with the advice he had received. Although the defendant then manifested some emotional upset, he regained his composure after a minute or two. Toward the end of the canvass, having been advised by the court of the constitutional rights he was waiving, and that a guilty plea could not be withdrawn at the time of sentencing, the defendant asked to speak to his attorney. His attorney informed the court that the defendant had inquired whether his pleas of guilty would preclude his pursuit of a claimed constitutional infirmity in the grand jury proceedings and the search warrant in his case. Upon receipt of advice on that point, the defendant reiterated his wish to plead guilty to the charges. The court then made a finding that the defendant, with the effective assistance of counsel, had pled guilty knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently.

The defendant now challenges the trial court's determination of voluntariness and intelligence on the ground that the court failed to make a sufficient inquiry into the defendant's mental capacity at the time of the entry of the pleas. Relying on the undisputed principle that a guilty plea violates constitutional requirements of due process if, because of incompetence, the plea is involuntary or unknowing; Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171-75, 95 S.Ct. 896, 903-06, 43 L.Ed.2d 103 (1975); State v. Torres, 182 Conn. 176, 184-86, 438 A.2d 46 (1980); the defendant argues that the circumstances at the plea hearing raised an unresolved doubt about the defendant's competence to plead guilty. Once such a doubt has been raised, the defendant maintains that a court becomes constitutionally obligated to determine whether a defendant is capable of making the reasoned choice essential to the validity of the guilty pleas. In making such a determination, the court is not entitled, according to the defendant, to rely on such factors as the defendant's subjective statement that his reasoning powers are unaffected by his psychiatric history, the court's own observations of the defendant's expressions, conduct and statements during the trial, or defense counsel's acquiescence in the proceedings, but must, sua sponte, order an evidentiary hearing into the defendant's medical condition. Under the circumstances revealed by the record in this case, we disagree.

In Myers v. Manson, 192 Conn. 383, 389-91, 472 A.2d 759 (1984), this court recently reviewed the standard for competence to plead guilty that has been established by our statute; General Statutes § 54-56d(a); and by the applicable constitutional case law. Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960). 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. McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 1170, 22 L.Ed.2d 418 (1969); Myers v. Manson, supra, 192 Conn. 389-90, 472 A.2d 759; State v. Deboben, 187 Conn. 469, 476, 446 A.2d 828 (1982); State v. Torres, supra, 182 Conn. 184-85, 438 A.2d 46; Buckley v. Warden, 177 Conn. 538, 542, 418 A.2d 913 (1979); State v. Battle, 170 Conn. 469, 474-75, 365 A.2d 1100 (1976); Consiglio v. Warden, 160 Conn. 151, 166, 276 A.2d 773 (1970). A trial court's scrutiny of the voluntariness and the intelligence of a plea pursuant to Practice Book §§ 711 through 713 and Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969), therefore necessarily implies that it has made an inquiry into the defendant's competence to plead. Myers v. Manson, supra, 192 Conn. 390-91, 472 A.2d 759.

The question in this case is whether Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966), required the court to make a further inquiry into competence once the defendant informed the court that he had been under psychiatric care for the previous eight months and had, as recently as forty-eight hours earlier, been taking prescription medicine relating thereto. As the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
56 cases
  • Johnson v. Com.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • December 16, 2008
    ...clear Johnson understood the context of the proceedings. See Edwards, 507 N.W.2d at 395-96; Zorzy, 622 A.2d at 1220; State v. Watson, 198 Conn. 598, 504 A.2d 497, 501 (1986) (finding significant in upholding the failure to hold a competency hearing that the defendant understood "the court's......
  • Joyner v. Commissioner of Correction, (AC 17716)
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • November 2, 1999
    ...214 Conn. 14, 19, 570 A.2d 189 (1990) (judge had previous cocounsel relationship with plaintiff's attorney); State v. Watson, 198 Conn. 598, 611, 504 A.2d 497 (1986) (alleged participation in negotiating plea bargain); State v. Lopez, 197 Conn. 337, 356-57, 497 A.2d 390 (1985) (sentencing j......
  • State v. Ross
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • June 1, 2004
    ...a reasonable doubt about the defendant's competency .... Moore v. United States, 464 F.2d 663, 666 (9th Cir. 1972). State v. Watson, 198 Conn. 598, 605, 504 A.2d 497 (1986); see Pate v. Robinson, supra, 383 U.S. 385; de Kaplany v. Enomoto, 540 F.2d 975, 982-83 (9th Cir. 1976), cert. denied,......
  • Sekou v. Warden, State Prison, 14061
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • December 25, 1990
    ...warrant the appointment of new counsel is within the discretion of the trial court. [Id., at 83, 519 A.2d 1194]; State v. Watson, 198 Conn. 598, 610, 504 A.2d 497 (1986)." State v. Gonzalez, supra. A court need not permit the replacement of counsel " 'upon a defendant's mere whimsical deman......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • A Survey of Criminal Law Opinions
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 93, 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...329 Conn. at 836-37 (quoting State v. Anthony D., 320 Conn. 842. 850-51, 134 A.3d 219 (2016)). [201] Id. at 837 (citing State v. Watson, 198 Conn. 598, 609, 504 A.2d 497 (1986) and Thomas v. Senkowski, 968 F.Supp. 953, 956 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)). [202] Id. at 840-41. [203] Id. at 842. [204] Id. a......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT