White v. Gaffney, No. 132-70.

Decision Date12 December 1971
Docket NumberNo. 132-70.
Citation435 F.2d 1241
PartiesEarl WHITE, Appellant, v. R. J. GAFFNEY, Warden, Kansas State Penitentiary, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Brian J. Moline, Wichita, Kan., for appellant.

Edward J. Collister, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen. of Kan. (Kent Frizzell, Atty. Gen., and Richard H. Seaton, Asst. Atty. Gen., on the brief), for appellee.

Before PICKETT, BREITENSTEIN and HILL, Circuit Judges.

PICKETT, Circuit Judge.

Appellant White brought this habeas corpus action in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas seeking his release from the Kansas State Penitentiary where he is serving a life sentence which followed his plea of guilty to murder in the second degree. He alleges that his guilty plea was involuntary because the prosecuting attorney failed to recommend to the court a sentence for a term of years rather than life imprisonment, as agreed. White exhausted his remedies in state court and the United States district court dismissed the action upon consideration of the state court record, which included a transcript of the evidence produced there.

There is no dispute as to relevant facts. In 1966 White was charged in the District Court of Atchison County, Kansas with the crime of murder in the first degree. On the day the case was set for trial, White appeared in open court with his counsel and entered a plea of guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Thereafter, post conviction proceedings were instituted pursuant to Kansas statute attacking the validity of the sentence. Following an evidentiary hearing the state district court made findings of fact and conclusions of law, and denied relief. This judgment was affirmed by the Kansas Supreme Court, White v. State, 203 Kan. 687, 455 P.2d 562 (1969).

The state court record reflects that pending trial defense counsel and the county attorney had several discussions as to the possibility of accepting a plea of guilty to second degree murder. The county attorney advised defense counsel that he would not object to such a plea and thought an appropriate sentence would be for a term of years and not life imprisonment. Defense counsel testified that the county attorney agreed that if a plea to second degree murder was entered, the county attorney would recommend to the court that the sentence be for a long term of years, and not life imprisonment.1 White was so advised. On the date the case was set for trial, White pleaded guilty to second degree murder.2 Prior to the sentence, in response to questions by the court, White stated that the plea was voluntarily made, free from promises, threats or duress of any kind. The county attorney made no recommendations, whereupon White was sentenced to life imprisonment. Immediately following the sentencing, defense counsel and the county attorney discussed the matter with the judge in his chambers, where it was disclosed that the county attorney had agreed to make the aforesaid representation. The court refused to modify the sentence or permit the withdrawal of the guilty plea. A formal motion to withdraw the plea was filed and heard the following day. The court, in denying the motion, stated that it was not a party to any agreement and if the recommendation had been made as agreed, the sentence would have been the same. As to the agreement between defense counsel and the county attorney, the state court, in the post conviction proceedings, found:

"That there were several discussions between Scott and Stillings at the request of Scott as to the possibility of plea to murder in the second degree and what the attitude of the County Attorney would be relative to recommending a sentence to the Court at the time of sentencing. That Stillings stated that in such a case he would recommend a long term of years in the order of forty (40) years."

Clearly, the evidence supports this finding.

We have recognized that negotiations between the prosecution and defense are valuable in the disposition of criminal litigation when properly conducted. Lesley v. State of Oklahoma, 407 F.2d 543 (10th Cir. 1969); see also State v. Byrd, 203 Kan. 45, 453 P.2d 22 (1969).

The law is settled that a plea of guilty induced by promises or threats which deprive the plea of its voluntary character is void and a conviction based upon it may be set aside in collateral proceedings. A plea of guilty is a waiver of a constitutional right to a jury trial. The plea should be accepted only if voluntarily and understandingly made. It must be free of factors or inducements which unfairly influence an accused when deciding what his plea shall be. It is difficult to perceive of a more effective influence on a decision whether or not to plead guilty to a criminal offense than an agreement with a prosecuting officer relative to his recommendation as to a sentence. In Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 493, 82 S.Ct. 510, 513, 7 L.Ed.2d 473 (1962), where one of the allegations was that an assistant United States attorney advised the accused prior to arraignment, that the total sentence on a plea of guilty would not exceed twenty years, when in fact it totaled forty years, the Court said:

"There can be no doubt that, if the allegations in the petitioner\'s motion and affidavit are true, he is entitled to have his sentence vacated. A guilty plea, if induced by promises or threats which deprive it of the character of a voluntary act, is void. A sentence based upon such a plea is open to collateral attack. * * *"

As said in Kercheval v. United States, 274 U.S. 220, 223, 47 S.Ct. 582, 583, 71 L.Ed. 1009 (1927):

"* * * A plea of guilty differs in purpose and effect from a mere admission or an extra-judicial confession; it is itself a conviction. Like a verdict of a jury it is conclusive. More is not required; the court has nothing to do but give judgment and sentence. Out of just consideration for persons accused of crime, courts are careful that a plea of guilty shall not be accepted unless made voluntarily after proper advice and with full understanding of the consequences. * *"

See also McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 22 L.Ed.2d 418 (1969).

In proceedings after the guilty plea was entered, the sentencing judge stated that if the recommendation had been made it would have been rejected, and furthermore, that the county attorney at the motion for permission to withdraw the guilty plea made the recommendation, which was not accepted by the court. The Kansas Supreme Court, in upholding the plea, recognized the fundamental principle of law that to be valid a plea of guilty must be freely, knowingly and understandingly made, and not induced by promises or threats. It also recognized that discussions and plea agreements in criminal cases are approved in Kansas. The court, however, apparently thought that the ineffectiveness of the county attorney's recommendation, had it been made, was material to a determination of the voluntariness of the plea. The...

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  • Blackledge v. Allison
    • United States
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    ...359, 362-363, and n. 2 (CA7); United States v. Tweedy, 419 F.2d 192, 193 (CA9); Jones v. United States, 423 F.2d 252 (CA9); White v. Gaffney, 435 F.2d 1241 (CA10); ABA Standards, Commentary 60-64; Task Force Report 9, 12-13, 111, 115; A. Trebach, The Rationing of Justice 159-160 (1964). 14 ......
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    ...Kan. 212, Syl. ¶ 7, 891 P.2d 407 (1995).Nor do the facts show that the prosecutor breached the plea agreement. Compare White v. Gaffney, 435 F.2d 1241 (10th Cir.1971) (granting habeas petition to permit defendant to withdraw his guilty plea where the prosecution breached the agreement regar......
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