State v. Williston, No. 42115.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Idaho
Writing for the CourtMELANSON, Chief Judge.
Citation358 P.3d 776,159 Idaho 215
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. Robert Michael WILLISTON, Defendant–Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 42115.
Decision Date07 July 2015

159 Idaho 215
358 P.3d 776

STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff–Respondent
Robert Michael WILLISTON, Defendant–Appellant.

No. 42115.

Court of Appeals of Idaho.

July 7, 2015.
Review Denied Nov. 2, 2015.

358 P.3d 778

Sara B. Thomas, State Appellate Public Defender; Shawn F. Wilkerson, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Lori A. Fleming, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.


MELANSON, Chief Judge.

Robert Michael Williston appeals from his judgment of conviction for attempted strangulation. He argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.



Williston was arrested for felony domestic battery and attempted strangulation after his wife reported that he had slapped her, kicked her in the face, and choked her after a night of drinking. The victim suffered injuries consistent with her allegations, including significant throat trauma consistent with being choked. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Williston pled guilty to attempted strangulation, I.C. § 18–923, and the state dismissed the domestic battery charge.

Two weeks before sentencing, Williston filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, contending that it was not made knowingly, intelligently, or voluntarily. At the hearing on that motion, Williston testified that he was unaware of the intent element of attempted strangulation and claimed that his counsel told him that he could be convicted of such if he merely touched the victim's neck or throat. The district court denied Williston's motion, determining that his testimony about his counsel's advice was not credible and concluding that Williston had been adequately advised of the intent element of attempted strangulation through the language of the charging document, which his statements at the change of plea hearing indicated he had read. The district court also held that there was no other just reason to permit Williston to withdraw his guilty plea. The district court sentenced Williston to a unified term of twelve years, with a minimum period of confinement of eight years. Williston appeals.



Idaho Criminal Rule 33(c) governs the withdrawal of guilty pleas.1 Whether to grant a motion to withdraw a guilty plea lies in the discretion of the district court and such discretion should be liberally applied. State v. Freeman, 110 Idaho 117, 121, 714 P.2d 86, 90 (Ct.App.1986). The exercise of the trial court's discretion is affected by the timing of the motion to withdraw the plea. State v. Ballard, 114 Idaho 799, 801, 761 P.2d 1151, 1153 (1988) ; State v. McFarland, 130 Idaho 358, 361, 941 P.2d 330, 333 (Ct.App.1997). Although a less rigorous standard applies, presentence withdrawal of a guilty plea is not an automatic right; the defendant has the burden of showing that a just reason exists to withdraw the plea.

358 P.3d 779

State v. Hawkins, 117 Idaho 285, 289, 787 P.2d 271, 275 (1990) ; State v. Ward, 135 Idaho 68, 72, 14 P.3d 388, 392 (Ct.App.2000). Once the defendant has met this burden, the state may still avoid a withdrawal of the plea by demonstrating the existence of prejudice to the state. State v. Dopp, 124 Idaho 481, 485, 861 P.2d 51, 55 (1993) ; State v. Henderson, 113 Idaho 411, 414, 744 P.2d 795, 798 (Ct.App.1987). However, the defendant's failure to present and support a plausible reason will dictate against granting withdrawal, even absent such prejudice. Dopp, 124 Idaho at 485, 861 P.2d at 55 ; Henderson, 113 Idaho at 414, 744 P.2d at 798.

Appellate review of the denial of a motion to withdraw a plea is limited to determining whether the district court exercised sound judicial discretion as distinguished from arbitrary action. Freeman, 110 Idaho at 121, 714 P.2d at 90. When a district court's discretionary decision in a criminal case is reviewed on appeal, the appellate court conducts a multi-tiered inquiry to determine: (1) whether the lower court correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) whether the lower court acted within the boundaries of such discretion and consistently with any legal standards applicable to the specific choices before it; and (3) whether the court reached its decision by an exercise of reason. State v. Hedger, 115 Idaho 598, 600, 768 P.2d 1331, 1333 (1989).



The first step in analyzing a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is to determine whether the plea was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made. State v. Colyer, 98 Idaho 32, 34, 557 P.2d 626, 628 (1976) ; State v. Hanslovan, 147 Idaho 530, 536, 211 P.3d 775, 781 (Ct.App.2008) ; Henderson, 113 Idaho at 412, 744 P.2d at 796. Additionally, I.C.R. 11(c) requires that, before a trial court accepts a guilty plea, the record of the entire proceedings—including reasonable inferences drawn therefrom—show:

(1) The voluntariness of the plea.
(2) The defendant was informed of the consequences of the plea, including minimum and maximum punishments, and other direct consequences which may apply.
(3) The defendant was advised that by pleading guilty the defendant would waive the right against compulsory self-incrimination, the right to trial by jury, and the right to confront witnesses against the defendant.
(4) The defendant was informed of the nature of the charge against him.
(5) Whether any promises have been made to the defendant, or whether the plea is a result of any plea bargaining agreement, and if so, the nature of the agreement and that the defendant was informed that the court is not bound by any promises or recommendation from either party as to punishment.

Accordingly, the determination that a plea is entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily involves a three-part inquiry: (1) whether the defendant's plea was voluntary in the sense that he or she understood the nature of the charges and was not coerced; (2) whether the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his or her rights to a jury trial, to confront his or her accusers, and to refrain from self-incrimination; and (3) whether the defendant understood the consequences of pleading guilty. Dopp, 124 Idaho at 484, 861 P.2d at 54 ; State v. Carrasco, 117 Idaho 295, 297, 787 P.2d 281, 283 (1990) ; Hawkins, 117 Idaho at 288, 787 P.2d at 274. The trial court need not establish a factual basis for the crimes charged prior to accepting a guilty plea. State v. Coffin, 104 Idaho 543, 545, 661 P.2d 328, 330 (1983). On appeal, the voluntariness of the guilty plea must be reasonably inferred from the record as a whole. Carrasco, 117 Idaho at 300, 787 P.2d at 286 ; Hawkins, 117 Idaho at 288, 787 P.2d at 274.

In order to comply with the fourth requirement of I.C.R. 11(c) and show that the plea was voluntary under the first part of the three-part inquiry, a defendant must be informed of the intent element requisite to the charged offense. Henderson, 113 Idaho at 412, 744 P.2d at 796 ; see also Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S. 175, 183, 125 S.Ct. 2398, 2405–06, 162 L.Ed.2d 143, 153–54 (2005) ;

358 P.3d 780

State v. Gonzales, 158 Idaho 112, 116, 343 P.3d 1119, 1123 (Ct.App.2015). A record showing that a defendant has been informed of the elements of the crime to which he or she is pleading guilty may be established by showing that the charging document, which the defendant read or had read to him or her, contained a clear reference to the statutory elements, including the element of intent. Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117, 94 S.Ct. 2887, 2907–08, 41 L.Ed.2d 590, 620–21 (1974) ; Gonzales, 158 Idaho at 116, 343 P.3d at 1123 ; State v. Hansen, 120 Idaho 286, 288–89, 815 P.2d 484, 486–87 (Ct.App.1991). Alternatively, the defendant's awareness of the elements of the charged offense may be established by defense counsel's unrebutted on-record representation that the nature of the charge and the elements of the crime were explained to the defendant or by the trial court informing the defendant of such in open court. See Stumpf, 545 U.S. at 183, 125 S.Ct. at 2405–06, 162 L.Ed.2d at 153–54 ; Gonzales, 158 Idaho at 116, 343 P.3d at 1123.

Williston argues that his guilty plea was not entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily because he was not informed by the charging information, his attorney, or the district court that the crime of attempted strangulation required proof of specific intent. Further, he alleges that his counsel misinformed him of the intent element that the state was required to prove, telling him that by merely touching the victim's neck or throat he could be found guilty of attempted strangulation.

A. Statutory Interpretation

Williston's argument presumes that his interpretation of the intent required under...

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