January 23, 2012

Colorado Court of Appeals - Criminal Law Decision 1-5-12

People v. Davis            Competency to Stand Trial vs. Competency to Waive Counsel / Right to Withdraw Guilty Plea
Facts: A Jury convicted Mr. Davis of distribution in one case. In two other cases, he worked out a joint deal where he pled to drug related offenses in each case. The prosecution then dismissed habitual criminal charges against Mr. Davis. Prior to trial, Mr. Davis moved to represent himself. No one disputed that Mr. Davis suffered some from serious mental illness. During the pendency of his cases, the Court subjected Mr. Davis to three competency evaluations, but Mr. Davis refused to participate in each. Nevertheless, the trial court concluded that Mr. Davis was competent to stand trial. However, the trial court determined that Mr. Davis was not competent to represent himself, and thus, denied his motion to dismiss counsel and proceed pro se.
Issue: Whether the trial court erred in denying Mr. Davis’ request to represent himself?
Held: No.
Reasoning: In Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Indiana did not err when it denied Mr. Edwards’ request to represent himself. The trial court in Indiana found Mr. Edwards competent to stand trial, but also found his mental illness affected him to a degree that he could not competently represent himself at trial.  Because the trial court that heard Mr. Davis’ request did not analyze the issue under Edwards, the Court of Appeals remanded this issue back to the trial court.
Issue: Whether the trial court erred when it declined to address Mr. Davis’ desire to withdraw his two guilty pleas?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: Prior to sentencing, Mr. Davis sought to withdraw his guilty pleas in his other two drug cases. His defense lawyer declined to address the issue, and as a result, the trial court also refused to address the issue. The Court of Appeals held that seeking to withdraw a guilty plea is personal to the accused, and thus, a lawyer cannot waive that issue. The Court of Appeals cited People v. Bergerud, 223 P.3d 686 (2010) in support of its holding, and remanded the issue back to the trial court.
Issue: Whether the state violated Mr. Davis’ right under the Double Jeopardy Clauses by convicting him of both possession and distribution?
Held: No
Reasoning: First, there seems to be a trend among the appellate divisions in Colorado to avoid any ‘unpreserved’ sentencing issues. Thus, like any trial error, if defense counsel does not raise the sentencing issue to the trial court, the appellate divisions seem eager to apply the deferential standard of ‘plain error’ on review. Here, the Court of Appeals claimed that substitute counsel did not raise the issue of Double Jeopardy at the time of sentencing, and thus, the standard of review the Court held would be plain error. In deciding the issue, the Court found the undercover officer’s testimony ambiguous. Thus, the Court concluded that the jury could infer that Mr. Davis only handed the officer a portion of the total amount of crack Mr. Davis possessed. Thus, the Court held, the two convictions Mr. Davis suffered did not violate Double Jeopardy.

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